vol. 1
Issue #1
Issue #2

Annual #1

vol. 2
Issue #1
Issue #2
Issue #3
Issue #4
Issue #5
Issue #6
Issue #7
Issue #8
Issue #9
Issue #10
Issue #11
Issue #12
Issue #13
Issue #14
Issue #15

 

 
Birds of Prey

vol.2 #3

"Into The Heart of Darkness"

By David Marshall


A Hidden Medical Facility In Gotham City

            It hurt to even put her feet on the cold floor but Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, was no quitter. The bullet that ripped through her side may have missed her internal organs but the road ahead was still a difficult one according to her surgeon, Dr. Pieter Cross, aka Dr. Mid-Nite.

            Once her feet were on the floor Dinah shuffled to a weight bench at the foot of her bed. A lone bar was suspended between two upright beams at its head. The bar had no iron plates to weigh it down. It was simply a bar and nothing more.

            Dinah sat gingerly on the bench and grabbed the bar. It hurt to lift it over her head and place it behind her neck. Once it was in position she draped her arms over it like a prisoner in stockades and twisted the core of her body slowly to her left.

            Pain shot through her abdomen but she twisted her body again so that it faced forward. Then she inched it slowly to the right. Dr. Mid-Nite recommended the simple movements to begin her rehabilitation. It seemed laughably simple when he prescribed the therapy. After all, Dinah was one of the world's most highly-trained fighters. Surely he should have recommended something more advanced for someone like her? Now the simple side-to-side motion highlighted just how serious her wounds were.

            Dinah tore herself away from the bar and grabbed the television remote from the stand beside her bed. She powered on the set and it blared to life.

            " ... from downtown Gotham City where two new gangs made their presence known when a gunfight erupted in Stafford Repp Park. Little is known about the groups calling themselves the Tuxedos or the rival gang they were fighting, the East End Enigmas. Eighteen bystanders were wounded and three killed by stray gunfire, including GCPD officer Ryan Tolbert a rookie fresh out of the Academy. It was his first day on the job.

            According to eyewitnesses the Tuxedos accused the Enigmas of framing them for the recent Crime Family Massacre at Maletta's Restaurant in the Entertainment District. According to officers on the scene the Tuxedos employed "trick umbrella" machine guns during the fight which lasted up to ten minutes and was broken up by the GCPD along with an assist by the vigilante known as the Huntress.

            Police believe this latest volley was another strike in a new power struggle among Gotham's underworld elite for control of the city. We're here with Detective Harvey Bullock. Detective, what can you tell us at this time?"

            "I want the citizens of Gotham City to know that the police have declared war on these gangs and will see them and their leaders brought to justice. We've taken several into custody and are following up on new leads as they come in. These goons will not have our city! Do you hear me, ya schmucks? You will not take..."

            Dinah turned off the television and reached for her JLA Communicator. Thankfully Oracle kept a mirror of the Watchtower computer systems even if the headquarters itself was in ruins."Watchtower, get me Oracle on comms please, Priority One. Authorization Canary 86847."

            "Contacting Oracle," the comms system replied.

            A moment later, a three-dimensional holographic projection of Dinah's friend hovered in the air before her.

            "Dinah? Is everything ok?" asked a startled Oracle.

            "You tell me," Dinah replied."What the hell's going on down there?"

            As usual Oracle turned things around."Shouldn't you worry about getting better?"

            "That won't work with me, Babs," Dinah replied."I know you too well."
            Oracle shrugged."I had to try but seriously Dinah, you shouldn't worry about any of this stuff right now. We've got it under control."

            "Doesn't sound that way to me," Dinah shot back."I just saw Bullock's jowls flapping on the national news. Did you see the footage, Babs? Machine gun umbrellas? You need my help."

            "Oh no you don't!" Oracle warned. "You're not cleared for duty. What's this really about, Dinah?"

            Dinah sighed and reached for the weight bar."It's about this! I can't even lift this damned thing and turn my body! I feel utterly useless!"

            Oracle nodded."I've been there, sister. Try to stay patient and take it one step at a time. I'm here if you need to talk."

            Dinah nodded."I know and I'm sorry. I feel petty complaining to you of all people! You've been through much worse."

            "Don't feel sorry for me," Oracle replied."Unless it's because this gang situation has me stumped."

            "How are the new girls working out?" Dinah asked.

            "Fine," Oracle replied.

            Dinah knew by the look on her partner's face that she was lying."You don't fool me, Babs. What's going on?"

                Oracle sighed."Cindy's missing."

            Dinah was surprised. She would have believed it about Bette but Cindy was the experienced one."And Bette?"

            "She's out looking for her," said Oracle. "I sent her to the devil's den."


The Iceberg Lounge, Gotham City

            The Iceberg Lounge was everything Oracle warned Flamebird it would be -  a vile, hostile din of  Gotham's underbelly. Purveyors of crime chased the next deal while celebrating their ill-gotten gains from the last one. Some were looking for work, others looking to hire. Gaming machines lined one wall of the establishment, brazenly daring anyone to challenge their legality. Ladies of the evening peddled themselves openly and without shame. They had mouths to feed too. A brief scuffle erupted between two men at one of the pool tables but was broken up by bouncer ripped like a venom freak.

            It was seedy but Flamebird had seen worse. She wasn't sure why Oracle was so hesitant to send her into the place. In the end she relented because Penguin's ear was always to the ground. If anyone knew what was going on it would be him. 

            The crowd took little notice of her as Flamebird pushed her way through the sea of bodies and made her way to the staircase Oracle described. She spotted Killer Croc in the crowd. It was definitely not a place for the weak of heart.

            "Where you going, girlie?" asked  the Venom freak she saw earlier. He stepped between her and the stairs, his arms folded.

            "I need to see your boss," Flamebird replied.

            The bouncer laughed."The boss chooses his whores. They don't pick him."

            Flamebird fought the urge to punch the oaf then and there."I'm here with a message from the Bat!"

            "That's a rich one," Oracle whispered in her earpiece.

            Blood rushed from the bouncer's face."The Bat sent you?"

            "Say yes," Oracle instructed.

            "My message is for Cobblepot, not you," Flamebird replied.

            "A little more improvisation than I like, but effective," said Oracle.

            The bouncer looked unsure what to do. He called over a tall, thin man that possessed an old-world charm."Yes?" the thin man asked.

            The bouncer pointed a thumb over his shoulder toward Flamebird."Little broad in the bright-red pajamas says she has a message for the boss -  from the Bat."

            The thin man smiled."Is that so? Then perhaps she'd share it with me first. If I feel it's something the boss needs to know I'll..."

            Flamebird turned and walked away."Fine, perhaps Two-Face will value the information."

            She tried not to walk away too slowly. It would tip her hand that she was bluffing.

            At last the thin man grabbed her shoulder."Perhaps I was too hasty in dismissing you, Ms ...?"

            "Flamebird."

            "Ms. Flamebird," the thin man continued."My name is Hudzinger. I'm Mr. Cobblepot's business manager. Wait here and I'll talk to the boss. If he wishes to see you'll I'll signal for you to come upstairs."

            The thin man ascended the stairs. After what seemed like forever he reappeared  and signaled the bouncer to allow her to pass. He stepped out of her way and Flamebird climbed the staircase slowly.  The thin man led her to an elaborate office where she found herself face-to-face with the Penguin himself! He was seated at a crescent-shaped antique writing desk with a leather top.

            "Should I know you?" Penguin barked gruffly.

            Flamebird shook her head.

            "You sure don't look like much!" Penguin added."State your business and get out of my hair! I have important matters to attend!"

            "We believe you're innocent," Flamebird stated matter-of-factly.

            Penguin squawked with laughter."Innocent? I haven't been innocent since the day I was born, girl! Who the hell do you think you are coming in here and proclaiming yourself judge and jury?"          

            Flamebird stood her ground."Someone's going to great lengths to frame Batman's enemies for this gang war. Tell me what you didn't tell the police."

            Penguin took a drag from his quellazaire and blew smoke rings into the air."Why should I talk? Tight lips are golden."

            "So is keeping the police out of your business," Flamebird replied."I'm sure you saw Bullock on the tube today."

            Penguin scrunched his nose at the mention of Bullock's name."Why would you help me?"

            "Because innocent people are dying," Flamebird answered."Did you blow up Maletta's?"

            "Why the hell would I do that? Those were some of my best men and one of my most profitable businesses!" Penguin spat."The loss has set me back months!"

            "A mechanical penguin delivered the bomb," said Flamebird. The bouncer drew closer as she increased the pressure on his boss.

            "You said it yourself. Someone is trying to divert attention away from themselves," Penguin explained.

            "And you have no connection to this new Tuxedo gang?" Flambebird asked.

            Penguin shook his head."I haven't used costumed henchmen in years. A little obvious, don't you know?"

            "Do you have enemies who would want to frame you?" Flamebird asked.

            Penguin slammed his fist down on his writing desk."Of course I do! You don't get into my line of work to make friends. Get on with your point!"

            "Ask him about Gypsy, but don't show your cards," Oracle instructed.

            "Any word on the streets about a missing meta?" Flamebird asked.

            "Can't you insufferable capes keep up with your own?" Penguin answered.

            "We'll take that as a no," Oracle whispered in Flamebird's ear. "He's telling the truth. Time to leave, Bette."

            "What is the message you have from the Bat?" Penguin demanded.

            "Keep your beak clean," Flamebird answered."Or we'll shut you down."

            Penguin laughed and looked over Flameebird's shoulder to his bouncer."Brutus, please escort this young woman from my establishment. And girlie?"

            "Yes?" Flamebird asked.

            "I'll contact you if I hear anything about this missing meta, but the next time you waste my time under false pretenses will be the last," Penguin warned."Do I make myself clear?"

            Flamebird laid an earpiece on Penguin's desk. "You can reach me on this."


Wayne Tower

            Oracle couldn't believe it. Yet another gang had crawled out of the woodwork, this one calling themselves the Gemini. They too had a unique motif. The gang was composed entirely of identical twins, one dressed in purple and one in brown. One was yin to the other's yang. They laid claim to the everything below 14th Street and dared anyone - cape or cop - to cross the Stafford Repp Parkway.

            "Want my help?" asked a familiar voice she knew all too well.

            "Good to see you too, Bruce," said Oracle without turning around."I knew you were there."

            "You're bluffing," said Batman, almost convincing Oracle herself."The security system was programmed to allow me..."

            "That old thing?" Oracle asked."I gutted it the second day I was here. Kept a dummy online for your sake."

            Batman took a seat beside her at her workstation and removed his cowl."You're good. Almost too good."

            Oracle swore she saw a slight smile on his face. She wanted to believe it was pride and not some sarcasm that went over her head because she was engrossed with the search for Gypsy.

            "You didn't answer my question. Do you need help?" Batman asked.

            "Would it really matter?" Oracle asked."I'm surprised you're not already on it."

            "I was on JLA business when this mess began," Batman explained."I saw you were on it when I returned and didn't want to step on your toes. I hear Gypsy is missing."

            Oracle nodded."No trace of her and no, we don't need help. We can take care of our own."

            "Fine," Batman answered."But if you don't want my help you'd better wrap this up soon."

            "We have some leads," Oracle lied. She turned around and the Dark Knight was gone."I hate when you do that."

            As she poured over the databases yet again, a reminder popped up on her screen. Her analysis was ready. There was precious little hard evidence in the case save for a few shards of metal Zinda recovered from the bomb at Maletta's and some personal items dropped by the Jesters during their failed heist. One of those items left behind was the left shoe of the hood Bette tackled in the orchestra pit. Dried mud was caked along the top of the shoe's insole welt where it joined the upper to the sole. She ran an analysis on it hours ago and the results were finally ready. 

            Oracle opened her soil analysis program and read it carefully. She skimmed over the base elements since they would be similar for much of the area and concentrated on the trace elements as it would narrow down a possible location. The sample was rich in cadmium, aluminum, lead, and iron. She was on to something!

            Those elements were the by-product of the zinc refluxing process used in zinc refineries. She searched the city records for evidence of a zinc refinery but found none. She broadened her search to include the entire state and again the search proved fruitless.

What was she missing?

            Wait! Perhaps there was a refinery in the area at some point in the past. The runoff soaking into the ground would certainly contaminate the soil for decades. Another search yielded quick results. There was an old, abandoned complex on the Riverfront that once housed a refinery.

            "Bette! Zinda! I've got a lead!"


An Abandoned Warehouse on the Riverfront, One Hour Later

            "There are two guards," Flamebird whispered to Oracle."Something's definitely up at this old dump."

            She and Lady Blackhawk crouched in the shadows of the night and surveyed the zinc refinery carefully. Despite decades of urban decay and sheets of aged, dusty plywood on the windows, the complex was definitely active which was more than the current city records indicated. Perhaps they were onto something after all.

            "How do we get in for a closer look?" Flamebird asked.

            "Leave that to me," said Lady Blackhawk as she stepped from the shadows and walked toward the guards.

            "What are you doing?" Flamebird asked but it was too late.  "This is going to suck! I just know it!"

            "Hey boys!" Lady Blackhawk called in a voice much more agreeable and refined than her usual bawdy tone."Does either of you know how to change a flat tire?"

            Flamebird rolled her eyes. There was no way they would fall for such a &

            "Well, what do we have here?" one of the guards asked. He was a stocky fellow, probably a former dockworker and covered in tattoos. His voice was gruff as his appearance.

            "No closer, lady!" the other guard yelled. He pumped his gun loudly so Zinda could hear it.

            "Please," Lady Blackhawk begged as she stepped into the light so they could see her clearly. Flamebird had to admit Zinda could rock the black, frilled miniskirt and calf-length leather boots as well as anyone."I'm not looking for trouble. I'll be on my way. Guess I'll have to call OneStar."

            The squat guard stepped in front of the taller one."C'mon Big Mike, it's just a broad with a flat tire! What could it hurt? Nobody even knows we're here anyway."

            Big Mike licked his lips and smiled."Hey, darlin'! What's yer name?"

            "Zinda, but my friends call me Zee," Lady Blackhawk replied with a smile. She approached Mike first and placed her hand on his shoulder. She rubbed it seductively, tracing her finger to his collar and back."And what's your name, handsome?"

            Big Mike lowered his gun again so the butt rested on the ground while he held the barrel end in his hand."They call me, Big Mike. Wanna know why?"

            "Because you're more than this little bird can handle?" Lady Blackhawk teased.

"Why don't you boys help me with my flat and  we'll make the night one to remember."

            The stocky one suddenly became reluctant."I don't know, Big Mike. We're not supposed to leave our post."

            Big Mike held up his arms and pointed east to west."Look around us, man! No one out here but us and the stars! Besides, when was the last time you had a woman like this? Never, right?"

            Lady Blackhawk stuck out her bottom lip."Would it help if I said pretty please?"

            The stocky one laughed and put down his gun."We got her begging for it, Big Mike."

            The men laughed and followed Lady Blackhawk into the shadows.            "Now let's get those pants off, boys!" she ordered.

            Flamebird heard a brief scuffle and a moment later her partner returned unscathed. She came out of hiding and joined her partner."I can't believe they fell for that!"

            "Disgusting pigs," said Lady Blakckhawk."They only think with one thing!"

            "That's good for us though, right?" Flamebird asked.

            Lady Blackhawk winked as she smiled."It can be, kiddo. Let's go."

            They crept into the refinery. It definitely wasn't abandoned. Antique cars were everywhere - old ones with chopped tops and big fenders like in the gangster movies. The building was divided into four main sections distinguished by very recognizable color schemes - black and white, purple and green, lime green, and brown and purple. Men ran to and fro working on the cars which were painted with those very schemes as well.  Some were dressed in work clothes while others donned the uniforms of the gangs that terrorized Gotham.

            "What the hell?" Flamebird asked. She and Lady Blackhawk ducked behind an engine casing. "They're in on this together."

            "Looks like our gang war is about more than gangs or war," Lady Blackhawk replied.

            A woman's scream cut short the reconnaissance  Even the gangsters dropped what they were doing and looked to the office in the corner.

            "Sounds like the boss is giving it to that JLA broad pretty good," laughed one of the men.

            "We've found Gypsy," Lady Blackhawk whispered to Oracle."Building's full of thugs. The gangs are working together, O. What do you want us to do?"

            "Hold your position and wait for backup," Oracle instructed.

            It sounded like a great plan until the office door swung open and two thugs shoved Gypsy onto the main floor. She fell to the ground, bruised and bloodied. Someone had given her quite a beating.

            "Boss on the floor!" yelled one of the thugs who shoved Gypsy to the ground.

            Every man in the refinery snapped to a military-like attention. The"boss" stood in the shadows of the doorway for a few moments to milk the adulation of his underlings before stepping into the light.  He wore a black, pinstriped Italian suit and designer shoes. A lifetime of affluence left Flamebird quite the expert on expensive jewelry and the watch on his wrist was most definitely a Rolex. He would have been inconspicuous in any boardroom in Gotham if not for his face, a leathery, black mug that resembled a skull. His eyes seemed to float in their sockets rather than being attached by sinew or nerve. His pearly whites and dark gums were forever frozen in a dead man's smile.

            "Bring me the mask!" the boss announced. 

            A thug dressed in a tuxedo with long black tails and a top hat moved to an older tube-style industrial oven and turned the iron wheel that released the seal. The door released slowly. Flamebird could feel the rush of heat from their hiding spot across the floor. A second man removed a glowing iron mask from the oven.

            "Such a pretty face!" said the boss as he took Gypsy's face into his hands."Such a shame it will be scarred forever once this mask is burned into your flesh. Whenever you look into the mirror you will always remember the night you refused to cooperate with the Black Mask!"         


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