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To Catch a Copperhead

BOOK: To Catch a Copperhead
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TO CATCH A COPPERHEAD

 

By D. Alan Lewis

 

 

Copyright © 2013 D. Alan
Lewis

Published by Pro Se Press at
Smashwords

 

 

-1-
The Usual Night’s Work

 

 

New York City, NY, November
25, 1864

Three years and seven months
since the outbreak of the War Between the States.

 

The girl’s scream resonated
with the cold November winds that tore across the bay and wove
through the towers of Manhattan. Hers wasn’t any different than the
scores I heard every night, but still, my ears perked up and my
gaze fell to the street below. From my perch atop one of the
nameless structures, I saw her running for her life from four
would-be suitors. I bit my lip and pushed down the memories of my
time as the girl being chased by thugs such as these, experiencing
the terror of the pursuit and the horrors that came with being
caught. My rifle slipped from the leather case strapped to my back
and I pulled it up to my shoulder, nuzzling it in tight and resting
my cheek against its cold wooden stock. They would be in range
shortly at the rate they moved. Luckily, the gas lamps illuminated
the streets just enough to make sure that I could get them in my
sights before I let my bullets fly.

The black and white dress
looked odd in the yellow glow of the gaslight. She looked like an
oddly shaped bumblebee but her attire spoke volumes about her
profession. With the sun down, most women on these streets sold
themselves to whoever could afford a bit of comfort. She wore the
uniform of a domestic, most likely working in one of the hotels on
the block. No woman deserves the unwanted attention of dogs like
these, but the whores that rule the night around here tend to ask
for it. Still, I don’t judge them for their choices. Like them, I
had had to resort to desperate measures to keep from starving in my
youth.

I peered through the scope
and caught sight of them as they turned and chased her into an
alley across the street. I didn’t have a chance to react before
they moved out of view. There wasn’t a way to get the angle I
needed to take the shots from here. Cursing to myself, I sheathed
the rifle and slipped over the edge of the roof. A drainpipe for
rainwater made for an excellent ladder and I dropped to the street
in no time. After years of practice, I could scale any building in
New York. The rooftops had become a second home to me.

The soft soles of my shoes
made no noise as I darted across the street and into the alley. The
dank passage didn’t go all the way through to another street,
causing the young woman to huddle in a corner, trapped by the
ruffians. The stench of sewage and rotting garbage sickened me as I
crept along the right wall, carefully avoiding the rats that
scurried from one busted crate to another.


Youse shouldn’t be stickin’
your nose in our affairs.” The man’s Irish accent was so thick that
I wondered momentarily if he’d just gotten off a ship at Castle
Garden.


I didn’t mean to hear
anything,” she said. The girl’s voice shook with fear and even from
the distance, I could clearly see her trembling.

They stood with their backs
to me and their senses damped by the girl’s yelps and pleas. As
long as I didn’t make a stupid mistake, they wouldn’t stand a
chance when my attack began. I’d taken on six men at one time, so
these four middle-aged thugs shouldn’t be a challenge. They were
reasonably well dressed for this part of town and something about
their voices gnawed at me. The one was Irish, but the others all
had a foreign twang when they spoke, a southern twang.


Grab her,” the Irishman
said.

One man rushed the girl,
snatched her wrists and pinned them behind her. She struggled
valiantly but simply wasn’t a match for his size and strength. As
for her size, she stood about my height. While she had an
attractive form with lovely curves, strength was something she
dearly lacked. The girl wiggled helplessly in his grasp and had no
chance of hurting him. For me, hurting men had become a passion and
hunting dregs like these four who preyed on the weaker sex had
become a mission.

My fingers tapped the butts
of both pistols but I knew better than to get into a firefight. The
police usually ignored the working girls but would react to the
sounds of gunfire. Last thing I needed was to draw in the coppers.
My exploits, as the newspapers called them, had upset many in City
Hall. The whores loved me because I kept them safe, up to a point.
The police, politicians, and all the men who frequented the girls
wanted me dead and I wasn’t in the mood to die tonight. Instead of
guns, I pulled my trusted Bowie knife. The twelve inch blade was
scratched and scuffed but the steel had been sharpened daily since
I’d liberated it from a drunk who’d tried to kill me the first
night I donned my outfit and my new life.

Crouched, I started to
spring on the first before they had a chance to corrupt her virtue
but stopped when the Irishman spoke again.


Jimmy, use your knife and
end her quick. Da boss doesn’t need any loose lips talking about
our business.” He let out a dark sounding laugh. His cackling made
the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

Her eyes opened wide and she
started to scream but the brute’s free hand cupped over her face
and muffled what sounds she could manifest. Jimmy stepped toward
her and drew a Bowie of his own. I didn’t think I could run the
distance before his knife was buried in her, so I tossed the blade
from my right hand to the left and drew a pistol.

The hammer fell, powder
exploded and the ball flashed across the twenty odd feet and pushed
Jimmy’s brains out the far side of his skull. Before they could
react, I’d launched myself toward them. The cobblestones were still
wet from the rains that’d fallen earlier in the day, so I used that
to my advantage. At full speed and five feet behind the Irishman, I
pulled and twisted myself and went into a slide. My thick pants
protected my legs and backside as I passed between the legs of the
Irishman, slashing at the back of his left thigh in the process.
The point of my blade tore through cloth and flesh, leaving his
hamstrings splayed apart. He jerked back in pain and fell to the
side as I came to a stop in front of him. My pistol, a Colt 1862
Police revolver, was brought to bear on the man to the right. The
.36 caliber ball shot upwards under the surprised man’s chin and
exited through the top of his skull.

I rolled over and came up on
my feet in front of the man holding the girl. The man pushed her
aside and quickly produced a weapon from his jacket. A fast kick
relieved him of his Derringer and with a lunge forward I pushed my
blade through his heart with little effort. His lifeless eyes never
closed as he fell with a thud beside the startled girl.


You’re safe now, little
bird,” I told her and spun to see about the Irishman.

He lay on the cobblestones
clasping both hands over the gaping wound on his leg. A dark pool
of blood slowly grew underneath him. He grunted and looked up at
me.


You bitch. I’ll kill you
for this.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle
at his misfortune and choice of words. The girl stepped up beside
me and looked back and forth at us. In the distance, the tooting of
police whistles could just be heard. Like I’d feared, the gunshots
had drawn too much attention, but it was a necessary move. Judging
from the distance, the coppers shouldn’t know where the shots had
been fired, so there was some time before they’d narrow it
down.


Why are they chasing you?”
I asked and repeated when she didn’t respond.


I… I was working and I…”
she stuttered. “I heard them talking about burning New York
City.”


Burn the city?” I asked her
and then turned my attention to the man on the ground. I slipped
the Bowie into its sheath but kept the pistol ready. “What’s she
talking about?”


Go to hell, bitch,” he
spat.

I’d expected little
cooperation from him, so I knelt beside the wounded man and pushed
the barrel of the pistol against his right kneecap. He looked up
defiantly, so I pulled the trigger. The ball shattered the joint
and he rolled over in a fetal position, held his leg and screamed
in agony. Given the severity of the gash and the gunshot, I doubted
that even the best surgeons would be able to save either
leg.


Now, worm,” I said and
pulled him onto his back. I shoved the barrel between his legs and
pushed hard against his manhood. “This goes next if you don’t tell
me what she’s talking about.”

I smiled inwardly as he
started to talk. I always found it amusing that a man would be so
willing to betray his cause in an effort to protect his nether
regions.


We’re gonna burn da whole
place down. Let da people know that da Confederates can strike in
the heart of da Union,” he said.


We?” I asked and pushed the
barrel down a little harder. “Who is we?”


Sons of Liberty,” he
grunted.

My gaze moved to the girl
and back to him. I knew who the Sons of Liberty were. Around here,
we called them Copperheads, Southern sympathizers who were working
in the North to aid the Rebel cause. Like the snakes they were
named after, the bastards moved silently, waited and always sank
their poison filled fangs into the skin of the Union.


Why are the Copperheads
doing this?” I asked, but he just smirked and said
nothing.

A frightened voice rang out
behind me. “I overheard them. I was cleaning up late and walked by
the door and they were talking….”

I looked up at her and saw
the fear in her eyes. She was as terrified of me as she was of them
and understandably so. Given that my tactics for protecting the
innocent usually left bodies strewn about, the newspapers had
dubbed me Assassin Anne.


What did you overhear?” I
said in a calm and reassuring voice.


Don’t…” he started, but my
pistol found his sensitive spot and I applied the right amount of
force to arrest his tongue.

She looked at him, swallowed
hard and choked down her fear. I gave her a knowing nod and asked
again.


They… are going to burn
down hotels. Set fires with the people still in them. I remember
that they said something about a special type of fire,” she
stammered and looked at him.

I pushed the barrel a little
harder and watched him flinch. A police whistle blew somewhere
nearby and I knew my time was short. “Tell me what she’s talking
about or I end you now.”

With some reluctance, he
finally relented and told me their scheme. The Copperheads planned
on setting fires to a dozen hotels in New York with hopes that it’d
rally the populace to demand a ceasefire with the Confederates. A
new invention called Greek fire, a chemical that would burst into
flames upon contact with the air, would be used. Members of the
plot carried large vials in specially fashioned wooden totes. They
were to go into each hotel and set fire to the lower floors, but
their big target was the Royale Hotel. Mitchell Madeira, special
adviser to the President, was in New York and their main goal was
to trap him in the burning building and, with his death, make a
personal stab at Mr. Lincoln.

One of the wooden totes sat
on the ground nearby. It’d been dropped by one of them. I stepped
over, popped the latch and opened it up. The case was no bigger
than a doctor’s satchel, but once opened, revealed the large glass
container. The liquid inside sloshed around but a tightly packed
cork made sure that it wouldn’t seep out. Thick cotton wadding
lined both sides to keep the vial in place.

I snatched the vial and
walked over to a tin garbage can that sat nearby. I withdrew the
cork and poured the Greek fire into the empty can. Within a minute,
the concoction ignited into a very bright and intense flame, but
without fuel the fire died away quickly. My test proved that they
were capable of doing what they planned. In a hotel with plenty of
wood and fabric to douse with the Greek fire, the effects would be
catastrophic.


Time to go,” I said to the
girl. “I need you to come with me since you heard what hotels
they’re going to ignite. We’ll try and stop as many as possible.” I
pointed my pistol at the Irishman’s head. “And as for you, any man
who’d burn innocent folks alive doesn’t deserve to
live.”

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