by Lydia Hunter
She was terrified.
In the last seven years she'd faced mobsters, muggers, psychotics...the worst the mean streets of Gotham City had to offer. And not once in all that time had she ever felt as afraid as this. Before, she'd only had herself to worry about. There were others she'd have been willing to give her life for, the innocents she'd sworn to protect, but their lives were all but meaningless in comparison to what she faced this time.
Her footsteps echoed hollowly through the warehouse and she cursed herself, not for the first time, for the vanity that made her choose high-heeled boots to go with her costume. She could hear her own heartbeat, too, and hoped it wasn't audible to whoever else might be around.
Suddenly another sound cut through the stillness, and the woman almost sobbed with relief. A high, childish voice raised in song -- one of those silly advertising jingles from television. Oh, God, she'd never complain about those things again! The singing seemed to be coming from the warehouse office. Light spilled from the partially open door, providing virtually the only illumination to be found in the cavernous building.
Cautiously, the woman who called herself Black Canary crept forward, towards the light and the sound of her daughter's voice. When she was close enough, she peered around one of the stacks of crates, hoping for a better view. It wasn't unobstructed, but she managed to see the most important thing; her almost three-year-old daughter had her back to the door, singing to herself and playing with a pair of fashion dolls that her kidnappers had thoughtfully provided. She was okay!
Unfortunately, that knowledge was enough to override all sense of caution, maternal instinct triumphing over any kind of rational thought, and Black Canary stepped out into the open. Almost immediately, a large man in a dark suit stepped in front of her, staring down at her silently as he blocked her way. His companion moved even more quietly, but she could feel his presence behind her.
The crimefighter stood her ground, determined not to move until they did. The one in front didn't seem to be expecting that, and stood staring at her for a long moment, as if trying to decide what to do about her.
"Boss has been waitin' for you, Canary," he informed her succinctly.
She gestured toward the office, signalling her willingness to accompany him. With one suspicious glance at their prisoner, the man turned his back on her and started to walk away. "Watch her, Murphy," he ordered his associate.
Black Canary didn't move. Murphy stepped closer and shoved his gun in her back, urging her forward. She took one step forward, then angled sideways and grabbed his sleeve with her left hand. The right hand reached up for his collar, and Murphy felt himself being lifted off the ground as the much smaller crimefighter bent her hips, shifting her weight enough to propel him over her shoulder and straight into his unsuspecting colleague. His gun went flying off to the side. Unwilling to leave it long enough for the two to sort out their tangled limbs, she made a beeline for it. She stooped...and then straightened again, head tilted upwards at an acute angle to avoid the sharp blade pressing against her throat.
Mentally she ran through her catalogue of defensive maneuvers. There were at least three she could think of that might get her out of this situation, but it was a dangerous gamble at best; with her child less than five feet away, she didn't dare take the risk. Praying the little girl wouldn't be too frightened by what was happening, she went along peacefully when he ordered her to move.
"You were right, boss. She came for her kid just like you said," the man with the knife said as he shoved her into the office.
The child looked up from her toys and jumped to her feet when she saw her mother. Then, seeing the knife, her big blue eyes opened wide and she stopped dead.
"Dinah, stay right there," her mother ordered in a low, firm voice. "Don't move a muscle."
"Mommy?" the little girl questioned fearfully.
"Mommy will be just fine," she told her daughter, hoping she managed to sound reassuring. "Just stay still. Everything will be just fine. You're safe now," she lied.
The thug with the knife at her throat laughed. His boss looked up from his account books with a frown of disapproval. "Hey, stupid," he scolded. "Don't you know it's rude to threaten a kid's mother with a knife right in front of her? You're probably traumatizing the little thing." The henchman hesitated, and his employer shook his head. "That means put it away, Carson. And then go stand by the door. I gotta have a little talk with our guest, here. Have a seat, Mrs. Lance."
Black Canary sat down in the hard wooden chair and nodded to her daughter, who wasted no time in scooting across the room to the relative safety of her mother's lap. The costumed woman cuddled her close against the warmth of her body, stroking her dark curls comfortingly while she glared at the man across the desk.
Samuel G. Ballard, known variously as Soapy Sam, Sleazy Sam, and, in his younger days, Ballsy Ballard, had been Gotham's most powerful mob boss since the mid-fifties. Not many people dared stand against him, and the ones who dared generally didn't survive long, as a rule. It didn't bother him unduly to know that his city was one of the few in the country that had its own personal guardian angel, one of the so-called "Mystery Men" that had plagued crime-ridden areas for the last thirty years or so. Especially since in this case, the Mystery "Man" was a woman in a short skirt and fishnets, and therefore even less of a threat to his way of life. Or so he'd believed.
"So," he said affably, resting his clutched hands in front of him on the enormous desk. "You've been giving us quite a bit of trouble over the last few years, Canary. I wouldn't have thought it very likely from a little slip of a girl like you. Then again, I ran up against your dad a few times. He gave me enough trouble in his day, too. Everybody knew Drake was one of the few honest cops in the city. Pain in the rump, if you wanna know the truth. You take after him, obviously."
She smiled slightly. "Thank you."
"It's not a compliment, woman! Who do you think you're playin' with here, one of those two-bit hoodlums off the street? I got a multi-million dollar empire here, stretching halfway around the world."
"I know you do."
Ballard narrowed his eyes. "That's what I hear. We underestimated you big time. How much info have you got on my operation?"
"You honestly don't have any idea, do you, Soapy?" she asked smugly.
"Too much to be of comfort, that's all I know," he admitted. "Too much for your own damn good."
She nodded. "Oh, more than that, Sam, more than that. You think I've been trouble for you before? Well, let me tell you, you can't even imagine the kind of trouble I can cause if you kill me, or if you touch one hair on my daughter's head, ever again. I don't have quite all the names, or all your trade routes, but I believe I've got most of them. Enough to bring down your whole organization."
Evidently he believed it, as well. He stared across at her for several moments, deep in thought. Normally, he'd just eliminate her. He flinched at the idea of killing women, but not so much he couldn't actually do it. However, the data she'd managed to accumulate was in her favour. Sure, she'd probably started with information her father had left behind, but it was phenomenal how much she'd managed to glean without them ever paying much attention at all to the little crimefighter. From now on he was going to take these costumed lunatics a little more seriously.
However, all he said to her was, "Well, little bird, we seem to have reached something of a stalemate. You've got all that information on me...but you don't dare use it, do you? Pretty little girl you've got there," he added meaningfully.
"If you even think of doing anything to hurt her --" Black Canary began. Her eyes blazed.
Ballard waved away her threats. "Why would I wanna hurt an innocent child?" he questioned. "Children are a precious resource. Not everybody's lucky enough to be able to have them, you know. My daughter, for one." He left off, the implicit threat hanging in the air between them.
"And if I don't use the information I have? If I just let your organization go on and on, destroying more and more lives? Then what?"
"Then, your daughter gets to grow up safe and sound in her own home. Your little family oughtta have a charmed life, with my boys looking out for you. Not every crimefighter can brag about that, huh?"
Sickened, she said nothing. What choice was there, really?
"So, we got ourselves a deal? I don't move against you, you don't move against me? Then why don't you run on home where you belong, Mrs. Lance? It's probably way past little Dinah's bedtime."
If he'd thrown one more taunt in her face, she might have done something she would have immediately regretted. But he didn't, and so she did something she was to regret for the rest of her life, every time she read in the newspaper about another of Soapy Sam Ballard's triumphs.
Face pale, she stumbled out of the warehouse and around to the side of the building where her husband was waiting for her. Catching sight of her, he bolted out of the car and ran to meet her.
"Diana, thank God!" he said. He took his daughter in his arms, and gasped, mostly in relief, as he felt her tiny arms go around his neck in a choke hold. "And Dinah's okay?"
"She's fine, Larry. She just needs to go home."
He opened up the back door and placed the little girl on the seat, bending inside to give her a kiss as he did so. Then he closed the door and took his wife in his arms, kissing her as if they were newlyweds. He'd never tell her he'd been on the verge of going in there himself. He had the utmost faith in her abilities, and as a professional detective he knew better than to go running in like an idiot, but as a husband and father it was a completely different story.
"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked at length.
She gave him a weary smile. "Never better. I just want to get out of this place, okay?"
"You got it, sweetheart."
...to be continued
Coming up next: Twenty-five years later, the same mother and daughter are brought together by a hospital stay, but can't seem to find any common ground. However, an unseen danger lurks just around the corner.... Stay tuned for Chapter One: Mother and Child Reunion.