CUTSCENE: Vigilante Stalkers

September 02, 2018:

Barbara gets a call from Zane, and the story of the Punisher begins to unravel.

Wayne Manor

A room in Wayne Manor.


NPCs: Zane Oldman

Mentions: The Punisher, Bruce Wayne, The Red Hood


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Barbara Gordon has been having troubling dreams.

Death is following her, haunting her. Dead gangbangers and street thugs litter the ground at her feet, and she’s of two minds: they deserved to die, no one deserves to die. She steps on bones and through blood, and…

Then her phone rings. It’s jangling tone pulls her violently from her dreams, and her heart is pounding in her chest as she stares into the dark of the ceiling above her. On the heels of her abrupt wakefulness is the reminder that she’s in a spare room in Wayne Manor. Alfred had been in a few hours ago to see to her injuries, change her bandages, and get her a cup of tea. She hadn’t seen Bruce yet.

Her phone is on the pillow beside her, and she barely has to lift her hand to grab the slender device. Her vision — still burned from the chemical smoke from the Red Hood’s grenades — is blurred as she reads the name and charismatic image of Zane Oldman smiling on her screen.

She swipes right across the face of the phone, bringing it to her ear as she turns her head aside into the pillow. She waits, knowing her high school friend all too well. He does not disappoint her.

Zane’s even, precise voice comes through crisp in her ear. “What did one wall say to the other wall?”

“What?” Her voice is rough — both from sleep and exhaustion.

“‘I’ll meet you in the corner.’”

She smiles. She can’t help it.

“Haven’t heard that one before.”

He must have heard the strain in her voice, because he’s immediately apologizing. “I’m sorry, Babs. Did I wake you up? It’s only 11.”

“No, no. It’s okay. I was just settling down.”

She makes an effort to pull herself up, ignoring how her body screams in absolute disdain for her choice to sit up. She’s stiff, and aching, and wished Zane had waited until morning. She isn’t going to tell him that. Loving Zane has always been making room for him in ways others don’t. So she just forces a smile through her voice.

“What’s going on?”

“I need all you got on the Punisher.” His words tighten her throat. “I got good momentum from the Jones episode, but there’s a huge ask about why we haven’t covered the Punisher. There’s some word on the street that he’s taking out the guys who set the bombs.”

“Wh-what?” Barbara’s surprised by this. “No. He’s… “ She closes her eyes, feeling her head swim as she tries to click her thoughts together. “No, Zane. He’s not connected to that. He’s hunting down the gangs responsible for killing his family.”

She hesitates long enough to get herself twisted to the edge of the bed. It must sound to Zane like she’s getting her notes, because he waits in the silence on the other end of the phone. She rubs at her forehead, and she touches the bruise left behind from Red Hood’s pistol-whip. She swallows the groan in her throat, covering it with a small cough.

“Um. His name is Frank Castle… his family was gunned down in that three-sided shoot-out in Central Park a couple months ago. His wife and two children were caught in the crossfire, or at least that’s what the media reported.”

“I heard about that. He’s a Veteran. There was almost no media coverage on it,” Zane says in his matter-of-fact tone.

“No, there wasn’t. That’s the point. Frank was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the head as a John Doe, but my gut tells me that someone hid his identity from the press. I talked to the nurse at the hospital; he was visited often by unknown suits, and a mysterious DNR showed up under the name Frank Castle about three weeks after the incident at the Carousel.”

“Wait… he was comatose?”

“Yes. They were keeping him on life-support until the DNR came in, then they pulled the plug. He was dead for four minutes, Zane.” Barbara’s voice has grown serious as she speaks these details to her friend. “Then he woke up. He’s been on his revenge killings ever since.”

“You’re holding back something, Babs. You always get this little weird way you talk when you are keeping back some details. You do that when you cover Batman, too.”

I do? She hadn’t recognized it before. Being both Bruce’s protege and his correspondent has meant a careful balance. She didn’t know Zane had noticed. She shakes the thoughts away, trying to focus on Castle. She chews slightly at her lower lip, layering silence between her and her friend.

Finally, it stretches too long. “Babs?”

“… Yeah, yeah. I’m here, sorry. Um.” She breathes out a slow breath, rubbing at her aching forehead. “Someone called the gangs together, Zane. I don’t know who it is, but I think that there’s more to this.”

Now it’s Zane’s turn to be silent. When he speaks next, his voice is serious. “Babs, I need you to send me every single file you have on this. We need to get this information out there. Frank Castle needs answers, and we can report on this.”

“Zane, no.” Those words come fast. “You can’t!”

You might get in Frank’s way.

“Yes, Barbara. I can. I’m a journalist. This is my job.”

“We stalk vigilantes, Zane!”

She regrets the words immediately. VigiWatch was started by a handful of eager high school newspaper students who saw their world change with Superman, and Batman, and Tony Stark. They started reporting on it, and eventually it launched into an East Coast sensation.

“I’m — I’m sorry, Zane. I — "

“Send me the files, Babs. Or don’t. The episode will air tomorrow.”

Her heart sinks, and she leans her head back into the headboard as she closes her eyes. “Alright, Zane. I’ll have it to you in an hour.” Her mouth tightens. “Be careful.”

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