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Installment Two

Faux DC presents “War Story”

by David Marshall

 



Somewhere

Black Canary opened her eyes and found herself in darkness. Primal fears seized her imagination for a brief moment before her shaken nerves were tamed by years of discipline. Judging by the angry growl of her stomach she had been unconscious for at least a day. Her ankle still hurt, but she was surprised to find it set and bandaged. Much of her clothing had been torn away, but she was sore in the wrong places to have been violated. She tried to peer through the darkness, even as the unmistakable stench of urine assaulted her nostrils. She could see nothing. Cool, damp air directed a concerto of chill bumps to a crescendo on her bare arms. Where was she?

"Hello?" Canary's voice hung in the thick, fetid air like a dying man on the gallows. Satisfied she would receive no answer, she kneaded her temples slowly, massaging at the pounding ache within her skull. Her senses settled, she hobbled to her feet despite the pain in her foot. If there was a way out of this hell hole she would find it. Inching to her left, she discovered a plank wall and felt her way around the room. On one side of the tiny room she discovered a large, wooden box that spanned its width. It rose from the floor to a height of roughly three feet. She continued to feel her way around the room and found a door. She pushed against it, but it wouldn't open. Curiously, a pull handle was attached to it. A small room with a large box and a door that pulled shut? Why this was nothing but a.... Canary wrinkled her nose in disgust. She was in an outhouse.

Canary eased back onto the crude, wooden seat and sized up the hole carefully. No need to fall in and go from bad to worse. She was careful to rest as much of her weight as possible on her strong arms and not her gimpy leg. Stretching forward, she kicked the door on the latch side with her good foot. The door sprung free, filling the outhouse with grey twilight.

"Okay, you sons of...."

Canary stumbled from the outhouse and fell to the ground. She looked up and was stunned to find herself surrounded by a group of men. Not the kind of men who had drugged and beaten her before, but Rebel soldiers. At least she thought they were. There were about fifteen or twenty of them, digging ditches or....graves? Several wore the grey pants of the Confederacy, but they were tattered and torn. None wore shirts and all appeared to be badly sunburned. A lucky few wore shoes, but one especially haggard-looking soldier wore only the left one. These men were a broken, empty-looking bunch. Never had Canary seen human beings who looked so desperately hungry and unkempt. They cowered at her outburst.

"I'm...sorry. I thought you locked me in there."

The men looked at one another in disbelief. Finally one of them found the nerve to speak. "You're a...woman?"

Canary smiled and ran her hands along her curves. "I'd better be. It'd be a shame to waste a body like this."

The men seemed to relax, a few even chuckled. Only one, a man with a dirty grey beard continued working. He turned his back, content to ignore her. The others crowded around. One of the older men leaned on his shovel and spit tobacco juice near her feet. "What the hell they throwin' a woman in 'ere for? You a spy?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Where are we?"

"You're in a Union prison, sugar. Welcome to Batson's Hell. You'd better put that body to good use if you want to stay alive."

Canary looked around. Judging from the fading glow on the horizon, she guessed she was at the western edge of the prison grounds. Several guard turrets dotted massive walls, which were topped with barbed wire. "I won't be staying."

The men laughed.

A tall man with broad shoulders spoke up. "That's what we all said darlin'. I've been here since Kirksville."

A younger man with bad teeth looked at her with lust in his eyes. "Maybe we can take her with us?"

The man with the broad shoulders slapped the younger man. "Dammit boy! Shut up!"

Canary smiled. "Going somewhere? Do tell. You'd hate me to sing like a Canary."

Another one of the men looked at the young man with the loose lips, shook his head and sighed. His gaze burned into Canary. "Under one condition. Queen says it okay."

"Queen?" Canary gasped. "Oliver Queen?"

The men recoiled in surprise. "You know the Archer?" one of them asked.

"Oliver Queen is... here?"

The men nodded and cleared away. The man with the dirty grey bird stopped shoveling. Though he was turned away, Canary recognized his heaving broad shoulders. "Damn," he sighed, then turned slowly. "Hey, Pretty Bird."

Had she been locked her away in her own personal hell? "Ollie? What's going on here?"

"You're in over yer head Pretty Bird."

"I know, but I'm used to it. I mean with you. What are you doing here? Last I heard you were in Georgia." She didn't want to have this conversation before a group of strangers.

"That's old news. Listen Bird, we're breakin' out of this hell-hole tonight. You going with us?"

With him? Canary cringed. "Like hell I will! I stopped needing you a long time ago, Queen."

Ollie scowled. "It's your call. So you sing?"

Canary lowered her head. She wasn't sure what the right choices were anymore. These men were the enemy. Weren't they? She had seen Brady's photographs: Countless Union soldiers lying dead on the battlefields at the hands of the grey coats. Her mind filled with images of decorated southern villains in all their pompous glory, riding through the streets of Richmond. Somehow though, none of it meshed with the scene before her. These men were fathers, brothers, and uncles. They were some mother's sons. Maybe war wasn't as black and white as the journalists made it out to be with the sharp bayonets of their propaganda. "My lips are sealed. Besides, the Union Army should be able to deal with you. You're cooked without guns."

The Archer laughed. "Who says we don't have guns?."

A commotion erupted behind them before Canary could question Ollie's cryptic reply. Her escape finally drew the attention of the Union guards. The soldiers rushed to her. Her foot left her unable to run, but she wasn't sure now was even the time for running. Now was the time for stealth and learning. She was on to something here, but she wasn't sure what. How did Cafferty tie into this? He smuggled arms to the South, yet she ended up in a Union prison on supposedly neutral territory? And what did Ollie mean about the guns?

One of the guards took liberty in brandishing the heel of his rifle on the prisoners. "All right! Break it up! Break it up! You ignorant Rebels act like you've never seen a lady before!" Content that he had performed his duty, he turned to Canary. "Follow me, Miss Lance."

Canary said nothing. She limped along behind the bully guard and in front of two more who followed. They led her to a building near the center of the prison grounds. It was a simple, unassuming structure. It's most prominent feature was the long, inviting porch that stretched from corner to corner along the front and wound around either side. The soldiers stopped and motioned for Canary to continue. She turned to the soldier who had led the way. "I take it someone is expecting me?"

The soldier said nothing.

Canary hobbled up the wooden steps and onto the long, plank porch. She knocked on the door. A decorated young soldier opened it. His eyes seemed glued to her bosom as she stepped inside.

"Welcome, Miss Lance! I'm glad to see you've awakened."

The man speaking was a General, not one of the important ones or Canary would have recognized him, but a General just the same. A woman in her line of work made it her business to be able to translate the language of rank displayed prominently on soldier's uniforms. The General stood and gestured to a high-back Victorian chair sitting across from his desk.

Canary sat. "Welcome? I would hate to see how you treat unwelcome guests, General..."

The General tipped his hat. "Batson. General William Batson. All our guests are welcome here. Some more than others."

"Is that why I was locked away in an outhouse?" Canary asked.

The General's dark, bushy moustache parted like a cheap theater curtain as a grin stretched across his face. "I apologize for the less-than-favorable accommodations, but they were for your own good."

"My own good?" Canary was tiring of this cat-and-mouse game.

The General's smile faded. "Do you have any idea what a couple hundred men who have been locked up for as much as a year would do to an unconscious woman found inside these walls, Miss Lance? Let alone one with your...er, talents?"

Canary was not amused. "From now on, you let me worry about my "talents" General. Why the hell did you lock me up? I'm not a Reb."

The General leaned forward on his desk. "Whether you believe it or not Miss Lance, I have told you the truth. A scouting party rescued you from known Rebel sympathizers near Kansas City. They brought you here to safety. One of my men caught your show in Boston a few years back and recognized you. I checked with Washington and learned you may be in danger. The cells are overflowing and the infirmary is filled with disease-ridden corpses-in-waiting. Surely you understand..."

"I understand you didn't want me wondering around the prison grounds! I wasn't supposed to see men like those I saw a few minutes ago, was I?"

General Batson sighed. "You're beauty is exceeded only by your power of observation."

Canary sneered at the General. "Another one of my ...talents."

The General nodded, then looked over Canary's shoulder to the young soldier who had opened the door for her. She had forgotten him. The soldier retrieved a paper from inside his coat and handed it to his General.

General Batson opened the envelope and removed a piece of paper from within its folds. He pushed the paper across his desk.

Canary took her time picking it up. Only an amateur showed herself too eager for information. While she maintained her best poker-face, General Batson opened a desk drawer and removed a cigar box. He opened the box, removed a fat, brown stogey and lit it. The stench of stale smoke filled the room. Finally, Canary relented and gingerly nabbed the document from General Batson's desk.

It was a telegraph message.

Canary. Situation under control. I need to see you in Washington.
Oracle

Canary looked up from the message to the smoke rings floating around General Batson's head.


"We have prepared a coach for your trip," Batson announced. "It leaves in the morning. I trust you'll find its amenities more to your tastes. In the meantime, we have cleared out a store room for you. You can freshen up there."

Canary offered a courteous smile in reply. She knew the message wasn't from Oracle. For one thing, it wasn't coded. I need to see you in Washington. Canary wondered how the General would react if he knew the two women had never met. Sure, they had shared a few secrets along the maze of wires that crisscrossed their warring nation, but for their own protection they made a point to never meet. Someone was wise to their arrangement and wanted her to lead them to Oracle. Canary would play along until she could warn her partner.



Capitol Inn, Washington D.C.

Barbara Gordon sipped her drink and watched as the ballroom filled with well-dressed movers and shakers. She wished it were proper for a lady to drink some of the "special" punch reserved for the men. Instead, she finished her flat drink and placed the elegant glass on a silver tray carried by a server wearing the whitest clothes she had ever seen. She rolled her wheelchair through an eclectic mix of politicians and their families, society whores, and clean cut young soldiers.

She turned to the elegant oak doors at the front of the ballroom. Where was he? He promised he'd be here. She sighed and pushed her wheelchair forward. "Excuse me," she said to a group of men who gathered in her path to talk politics. The men for whatever reason, refused to budge. Barbara wasn't sure whether they were ignoring her or whether they were just too engrossed in their discussion to hear her speaking. She veered to the left of the group.

".... strike at the heart of the Confederacy. That's what we should do! This war would be over in a few weeks."

A portly gentleman at the center of the motley ensemble shook his head even as he lowered a foul-smelling pipe. He exhaled a steady stream of pungent smoke before speaking. "Gentlemen, we speak of peace as if the war's end would bring about a miracle! There can be no true peace until every visage of the Confederacy is crushed beneath our feet! Such a thorough defeat takes time and should be enjoyed properly."

Barbara cringed. Must peace always be tied to an overwhelming Union victory and retribution against the South? Sure, she wanted victory, but some men wanted more. To them, war was a game and they were the poorest of sports. It wasn't enough to win the fight. They would be happy with no less than stripping the South of its dignity and forcing it to eat the bread of humility as it groveled at Washington's feet. She shook her head and sighed. How ironic that those who claimed to abhor the institution of slavery sought to master men themselves. She rolled past the group of hypocrites.

A brass band at the front of the room began to play Corporal Schnapps. Polite, young soldiers paired off with eligible young ladies from prominent Washington families and led them across the grand ballroom floor. As the band played through the lively verses, the young men whirled the young ladies through a series of steps that appeared to the untrained eye to be spontaneous, but were in truth, well-rehearsed cultural rituals. Barbara took comfort in the familiarity of the form. As she expected, the couples merged into a processional at the darker, yet lush chorus. The procession began to dominate the ballroom, forcing onlookers and those engrossed in conversation and debate to seek refuge along the walls. The onlookers clapped in time to the song.

Barbara pressed her wheelchair through the noisy, retreating crowd and found her original spot near the server's table. He still hadn't arrived. She took another glass of punch, and watched the door.

"Looking for someone?"

Barbara smiled and turned. "I knew you'd show."

"A good father always keeps his word," James Gordon answered. "I'm sorry I'm running late. The coachman took a wrong turn."

Barbara reached for her father and hugged him. "I'll take what I can get. Besides, late is better than never."

Her father smiled. She always fussed at him to smile more, but he was quick to dismiss her concerns. "Take what you can get? You could always move back to Gotham."

They both knew he didn't mean it, at least not entirely. Gotham held nothing but nightmares for her now. There, she would do nothing but feel sorry for herself and let her father support her. Washington offered her a life and the chance to make a difference again. Still, she was glad her father always made a point to ask. It was his way of letting her know he loved her. She looked up at him and reached for his hands. "Enough silly talk. Let's dance!"

James Gordon bowed to his daughter. "To the loveliest woman in the room. Shall we?"

He led her to the crowded dance floor among a chorus of whispers.




General Batson's Office

A dim glow of candlelight flooded General Batson's office. Black Canary wasn't sure what she was looking for, but knew the answers were somewhere in the room. She knelt on both knees behind his large oak desk and pulled open the long middle drawer. She winced as it creaked. Finally, it opened wide enough for her to reach her hand inside. She placed her candle on the desk and peered into the drawer. A revolver was at the front, beside a soiled pair of women's underwear. Canary wrinkled her nose in disgust. Moving the undergarment aside, she found a cigar box. She retrieved it and opened the lid. Cigars.

"The only General I've ever met who actually keeps cigars in his cigar box," Canary whispered to calm her own nerves.

She closed the cigar box and returned it to the drawer along with the undergarment. She compared them to their original position. Pleased that she had restored them to their proper places, she closed the drawer. Moving to the items on General Batson's desk, she found the ashtray overflowing. To the right of the ashtray was an engraved writing set. She strained to read the inscription at the base of the ornate quill-holder. "To General William F. Batson. With Regards. Pres. A. Lincoln" Canary shook her head. Surely Lincoln's judgement was better than.... Of course! It was probably just a standard gift issued to all officers upon receiving their promotions. At least, it made her feel better to believe Lincoln could harbor no personal respect for such a man.

Canary snooped around Batson's desk for a few minutes, looking through his papers and various other items of interest. Most papers dealt with the transfer of prisoners, Army regulations, and the occasional request for supplies. Most supply requests were stamped prominently in red ink. "NO". One caught her eye. It had no stamp at all. In fact it wasn't a request. It was a telegram.

General,
The rendezvous is scheduled to take place at Mortimer Pass. The Archer will lead the Rebels to their graves. I expect the Union will look favorably on my kindness in the days following the war.
Warmest Regards,
R.C.

R.C? Rafe Cafferty? Then Cafferty wasn't smuggling arms to the Rebels, but instead double-crossing them into a death trap! It all made sense. She heard rumors in both Traveler's Gulch and River's Run that Cafferty was interested in running for Governor. Is that what he meant by looking favorable on his kindness following the war? Men dying in war was inevitable, but executing prisoners for Cafferty's political gain was immoral. She wouldn't allow it. There was still time to warn Ollie before she left for Washington.

WHAM! Two Union soldiers burst through the door. "Halt where you are!"

Canary threw her hands into the air and let the telegram fall to the desk. "I..er..had to use the bathroom and took a wrong turn on the way back to my room."

"Obviously acting isn't one of your "talents" Ms. Lance. Then again, I don't suppose women of your ilk are called upon to act in those dins of iniquity you frequent!" General Batson entered the room, walking between the barrels of the soldier's rifles.

Canary sneered. No self-righteous bastard with some whore's underclothes in his desk drawer was going to question her morals "Never judge someone who knows what skeletons you keep locked away for safekeeping General."

The General blushed noticeably, but regained his composure. "What did you have in your hand, my dear Canary?" He walked to his desk and retrieved the telegram. "Such a pity. I would have been all too glad to send you back to Washington and allow you to lead us to this pesky person you call Oracle. However, you know too much and I can't allow you to leave. Shoot her."

"Sir?" asked the soldier to Batson's left. He was the same soldier who admired her bosom earlier and who held the note in his pocket.

"Kill her! I give the orders around here boy!" shouted Batson.

Canary was thankful someone in the Union army still had a conscience. She seized the brief moment of confusion and leaped into action. She dealt first with the soldier to Batson's right. He didn't seem to share his companion's willingness to question orders. He was about to pull the trigger of his gun. Canary dived for cover beneath the desk.

Blam! Blam!

The first shot shattered the window behind the general's desk. The second one came through the front of the desk and narrowly missed hitting her good leg. She couldn't afford another close call. She placed her hands above her on the underside of the desk. With great effort she strained at the heavy piece of furniture. She tried to lift it, but used her injured foot to push off with. She reached for the injured ankle and cried out in pain.

"You got her! Now make sure she's dead!" Batson screamed.

Her pain inadvertently bought her a second chance, and pain or not she wasn't going to waste it. Once more she strained against the terrific weight of the desk, but this time pushed off using her good foot. With a lunge that nearly threw her back out, she lifted the desk and used its own weight to hurl it towards her assailant. He fired into the table as she hoped he would. Moving with what grace she could muster with her injury, she dived beside the table and came up beside him. A punch to the windpipe rendered him helpless. He dropped his gun and fell to the floor wheezing for breath.

The soldier who questioned Batson moved into the fray. She appreciated his help, but knew he would not allow her to escape after violating orders before. He brandished his weapon and fired, but Canary ducked at the last moment and the bullet flew over her head. She heard Batson scream and saw blood soaking through his torn uniform at his shoulder. The bullet had ricocheted off the mantle and struck him. Still on the floor, she rolled toward the soldier. She come out of her roll underneath the man and kicked him in the crotch. He lurched forward.

BLAM!

The soldier fell to the floor dead. A gaping hole in his chest cavity allowed his blood to empty to the wooden plank floor. Canary never meant for anyone to die.

Through gritted teeth, Batson cursed. "I saw that Dammit! You killed a man in cold blood! His blood is on your hands!"

"My hands are clean, murderer! Go to hell!" Canary crawled to Batson and slugged him. He fell unconscious to the floor. She wished he was the one dead instead of a soldier following orders of a superior officer not fit to serve.

Canary's indignation was cut short by the sound of gunfire and yelling. She limped to the shot-out window and looked out at the prison grounds. One of the buildings was on fire. The prisoners were breaking free! She had to get to Ollie and convince him to turn around before he and his men were killed. She only hoped he wouldn't be too stubborn to believe her.

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