Prelude to The Shredder Wars — Snippet 2

April 9, 2009, 7:40 p.m

Raquel Silva loved Shakepeare like you wouldn’t believe.  Loved him since college, where the drama students who would put radically different versions of Othello every year taught her the power of stories.  Had that really been almost thirty years ago?

In any case, when she first begun making waves in the competitive fighting circuit and was told that she literally needed to make a name for herself, there was no question what that name would be.  Granted, it had initially been a pain in the ass to continuously have to explain that her alias didn’t actually refer to the character who actually went by that name but to her husband, but the king’s name on its own just didn’t sound dramatic enough for the venue.  Eventually though, people started getting it–Lady Macbeth: No man of woman born could beat her.

Then came The Society.  While she didn’t much care for its endgame—whatever that was—she was extremely grateful for the perks that came with associating with them.  Not only had their health plan allowed her to stay in the game for far longer than she would have been able to otherwise, it allowed her to send both of her kids to college even after she was no longer making money in the circuit.  Now she made the most out of semi-retirement in Brazil, where she lived with, and took care of, her parents.

The Hotel Cabal was not Brazil, nor was it the sort of hotel she would frequent, given a choice.  It was owned by The Illuminati, and served as part hideaway, part torture chamber.  Care was advised when traversing the hotel; legend was it that one of its administrators, Mace Malone, once lost his way and was never seen again.  This was on Raquel’s mind as she led Takeshi Yoshihama—Master Khan—through the building’s beige halls of drabness.

“You know, there’s no need for you to be so tense,” she told her prisoner. “We seriously don’t plan on killing you.”

“You are Illuminati.  Killing me is among the least you could do to me.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  Still, why make yourself miserable beforehand?”  This got no answer, which wasn’t particularly unexpected.  From everything she’d heard about the Foot’s ninja, they tended to be annoyingly disciplined.  Khan, in particular, seemed like the kind of person who would hide in a closet when not on a mission.  Not at all the kind of person she liked working with, although that didn’t mean she wouldn’t—she too could be disciplined.

After three minutes of some very circuitous walking, the two martial artists arrived at their destination, a door marked 532, a designation that might have been helpful if it hadn’t been preceded by a dozen doors also marked 532.  At the other side was David Xanatos, the man tasked with selling Khan on the idea of betraying the people he had dedicated his life to.

 

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Electric Boogaloo, Chapter 7: Lin Takahashi

Lin Takahashi loved her job.  For months at a time, she could forget herself and become an architect, an entertainment agent, and now a policewoman trying to take down the very organization which she secretly belonged to.  For a woman who as a kid loved to play pretend, her constant assignments were a trip and a half.  The considerable perks were nice too.

And she’d be damned if she was going to let some F.B.I. prick take it away from her.

“Hacker, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.  Live the cover, she’d always been told.  She could do that—she’d been doing it for the past five years.

“Is that so.” Hacker said, smiling superciliously.  Pulling out a manila envelope, he removed from it a series of photographs and set them before her.

It was her.  At a glance, Lin recognized herself at various stages of her adult life.  Her college graduation.  Her vacation/assignment in France.  That night with the disgraced late Diet member Megumi Sakai.  She, Karai, and that Joshua kid.  Her past five years, captured on camera.  Also, Hacker’s first mistake.  A dedicated F.B.I. agent could have plausibly obtained, at best, a fraction of the pictures she’d been shown. For him to get all of them, he’d have to either be Foot, or something much worse.

Martin Hacker, it seemed, was Illuminati.

*          *          *

“The Illuminati?” asked an eighteen-year old Lin, as she scoured the Amphi lingerie store for the perfect bra for the night.  “As in ‘organization secretly taking over the world via secret conspiracies involving vaccines’?  Isn’t that supposed to be us?”

Her companion, Karai Saki, did not seem to find the comment amusing.  Then again, that wasn’t exactly rare for her.  “The Illuminati are not to be taken lightly, Lin.  They are the biggest threat to everything The Foot has worked for.”

Lin sighed. She generally thought of herself a patient girl, but Karai was making her seriously reconsider that stance. No matter what the comment, the ninja princess’ reaction would be the same detached humorlessness.  It took a special something to react to her story about that time she’d staged 200-person naked protest with utter disinterest.

Still, she wasn’t about to give up on her newest project.   Two months after Karai had first joined Lin’s martial arts training squadron, with a demeanor that suggested a biologist studying a particularly interesting colony of ants, the older girl was still determined to figure out what had made the smart, confident, beautiful—yet maddeningly reticent—sixteen-year-old tick.

Fortunately, her efforts were not without their progress.  It had taken three weeks of awkward “conversation”, but she had eventually begun obtaining  semi-friendly snippets out of the girl.  For her to freely volunteer information like this was a major breakthrough.

Amazingly, Karai wasn’t finished.  “My father has gone out to meet with their leaders, you know.  Apparently the Foot have killed one of their number, and they are quite cross about it.”

“Is that so?” Lin asked, from beyond the dressing room door, as she tried out garment after garment. Surprising news. If everything she’d heard of the Shredder was true, he was not the type to admit mistakes easily.  For him to actually go through the trouble of apologizing…

“You should know, by the way: this is classified information. If you tell anyone about it, I will be forced to eliminate you.”  Said with total conviction.

Figures, though Lin.  “Well, thanks for giving me a choice on the matter,” she replied, tartly.  “Why’d you tell me, then?”

Karai considered her answer.  “I am concerned for my father. I had hoped that sharing my worries would ease my discomfort.”

“Well, when you put it that way…” So frustrating. Still, she was glad the ninja princess had decided to confide in her.  She might be human after all.

They continued their trek through the store. Before long, Karai suggested Lin buy an expensive-looking turquoise number which, according to its manufactures, would guarantee “fantastic cleavage”, even if it had to perform magic in order to do so.  To Lin’s surprise, it fit perfectly.

*          *          *

A barista brought Hacker’s meal to their table.  As she set the items down, Hacker retrieved the various photos.  “Let’s not be coy, Miss Lin,” the F.B.I. said, as he began adding sugar to his latte.  “We both know you’re not quite what you pretend to be.”

Lin had stopped paying attention, though.  Her mind was in a frenzy, trying to come up with a battle plan.  First things first, Lin thought: if she wanted to beat Hacker, she needed to take stock of all she knew, all she didn’t know, and all she needed to know.  She knew that:

一) Hacker had possession of a series of suggestive pictures—genuine suggestive pictures, at that.  However, from what she’d seen, the photos did not go beyond suggestive.  They included no evidence of wrongdoing.

二) Hacker obviously planned to blackmail her, and was willing to risk his life in order to do it.

Unfortunately, the list of things she didn’t know or was unsure about was somewhat larger:

一) Did Hacker possess additional, more incriminating, pictures or evidence?  If he did, why didn’t he bring them here?

二) Did he know her true affiliation, or did he merely suspect it?  He could merely be bluffing, hoping she’d slip up and give him free information.

三) Was he an idiot, or had he actually thought this through?

四) Was he actually Illuminati?  She was almost certain he was but she couldn’t afford to be wrong.

五) If so, was he acting on their behalf?

六) If the answer to the previous two items was “yes”, what did it mean? The Illuminati and the Foot had a set of pretty strict rules when it came to inter-conspiracy interaction, set up precisely to prevent this sort of situation.  If he was breaking Society protocol on their behalf, then things were about to get dicey.

One thing was clear: until she got more information, slitting the self-satisfied G-Man’s throat and dumping the body was not an option.

“You’re not making any sense,” she finally said, a full five seconds after Hacker had last spoken.  “What are these photos supposed to be?  Have you been following me?”

“Ah, so it is you in these photos then.”  Not quite a question. He looked a bit like he’d achieved an early victory, which suited Lin just fine.

“Some, yeah,” she said, singling the more innocuous ones of the lot. “I don’t see what they have to do with anything.”

“Okay, lets start at the beginning.  You’ve kept up with the recent reports about the Foot Clan, yes?”

“Ancient Japanese cabal with secretly taking over the world via secret conspiracies—I have been paying attention, you know.”

“Good,” Hacker said.  “Well, it all brought to mind something a friend of mine over at Interpol had told me a while back, about a series of seemingly unrelated crimes over in Japan.  Unrelated, except for one thing: in every one of these incidents, a young woman—or rather, young women—had been found to have direct or indirect connections to people involved in each case.  Strangely enough, all these women shared several key physical characteristics, and all had the same name: Lin.”

Lin put on her best confused face—this was supposed to be new information, after all.  Not a bad story, she considered.  Probably bullshit all the way through, but the average person would probably find it plausible enough not to ask awkward questions until it was too late.   “And you think I’m related to these incidents.  Do you have any proof?”

“Not really, no.  Still, one can’t argue that Kessler’s case seems to fit the profile; the similarities would no doubt raise some eyebrows to anyone who became aware of them.  A curious and enterprising investigator—Maza, for example—would certainly find it worth looking into.”

“It’d be a waste of time; I didn’t do anything,” Lin said, allowing hint of despair to seep into her demeanor.  Koyobashi may have been created to be cool under pressure, but being impassive would merely confirm Hacker’s suspicions.

“That may well be the case—maybe they look into Kessler and find nothing. Then again, a particularly smart investigator—again, Maza—may decide to check in on Lin Koyobashi’s record, and what will they find then?  Either way, your job has just become a whole lot harder.”

Lin would have smiled, if her cover had allowed for it.  The plan was brilliant, covering his ass from every angle.  Unless she was extremely careful, any counter-attack would be as likely to cast suspicion on her.

“Like I said, I believe you’re part of the Foot Clan.  I can’t prove it and I won’t try to, but that is what I believe.  If my suspicions are true, then it means that you can do something for me—or more specifically, for a group of people I’m associated with.”  The dog whistle at the end was too deliberate—he did have proof of everything.  The comment made no sense otherwise.

Their little game was winding down.  “If your suspicions are true.  And if they’re not?”

“Then you are of no use to me and I’ve tragically and accidentally—but with the best of intentions—damaged an innocent cop’s career.  You’ll get over it—after all, who ever heard of a public official getting punished in this city?”

And there they were.  The game—at least this round—was over. Hacker held the lead, but that was hardly a permanent state of affairs.  She’d learned a bit, and she’d kept her options open—not bad for a largely improvised gig.

Hacker produced another manila envelope, which he gave to Lin.  It was completely unmarked.  “Open that when you’re back home, and read what’s inside immediately.  Give me an answer by noon tomorrow, and we’ll be set.  If you agree to do this favor for me, I’ll be out of your hair, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.  If I hear nothing from you, or you decide to disagree, then I’ll just have share my suspicions with Maza and the rest.

Hacker finished his meal, paid his bill, and then left Lin alone in the coffee shop.  As she watched him walk out of sight, she entertained herself by imagining him being killed in various humorous mishaps.  She particularly liked the scenario where he was attacked by a squadron of rabid squirrels.

She was hungry.  She’d eaten before arriving, and she knew that priority one should probably be to read Hacker’s papers and contact Karai, but the confrontation with the Illuminatus—and she was certain that was what he was, all things considered—had left her peckish. To that purpose, she headed to the counter to order a meal.  Everything else could wait.

*          *          *

Hacker had to admit it; he was impressed. While he hadn’t expected Miss Lin to break down in sobs during their encounter, he’d though he would get far more out of her than he actually did. Pity she worked for the other team, or he’d try to recruit her in a heartbeat. He almost felt sorry for framing her for the Kessler murder—almost.

————————

“Here’s your coffee, ‘lisa,” said Cedric Harris, as he handed over the large (Starbucks would call it “venti”) cup of Miss Carmen’s almost acid-like concoction.  “Hope it keeps you awake.”

“Yeah, you and all of Manhattan’s drivers,” Elisa said.  Coffee in hand, she stepped outside of the car—no way was she risking the stains—and gratefully began imbibing.

Neither Elisa nor Cedric were regular coffee drinkers.  The sudden dependency had come about thanks to the their shift in hours, which had let them with an annoying mix of sleepiness and insomnia.  So far, they still hadn’t found the combination of chemicals that would magically transform them into daytime creatures, but they hadn’t give up hope yet.

“I really hope this detail ends soon,” Elisa commented, as she stifled a yawn.  “Humans were not meant for daytime living.”

“I don’t know,” said Cedric, his own coffee in hand.  I’m kind of enjoying it.  It’s nice to be synced with the rest of the world for a change.”

“Yeah?” Elisa said incredulously.  “What about Diane?”  Cedric’s wife worked night shifts at a hospital, a decision she’d made after she’d first got serious four years ago.

“We’re fine—in fact, I think not being able to see each other is just the jolt our marriage needed.  Now it’s just hello, a quick roll in the hay, goodbye.  Plus, she really likes that the house is now clean by the time she wakes up,” he said, without a hint of irony. “How about you?  You thinking of getting back in the dating game? At least now you’re not limited to the graveyard shift crazies.”

Elisa smiled. “I don’t know—you sure you won’t get jealous?”

“Moi?  Never.  I’m a generous guy—I know you’re too much of a woman for me to keep for myself.  Plus, maybe it’ll stop all the locker room talk about you being a secret lesbian.”

“Well, maybe if you stopped spreading them around…” The conversation was a familiar one, and one that occasionally made her pine for Matt.  While Cedric’s ribbing was not malicious—it was more biological imperative than anything—it would occasionally touch some still-open wounds.  In addition, it reminded her of the foundation of lies of omission at the center of their relationship; she couldn’t tell him about Goliath without revealing his nature, and she couldn’t do that without raising some obvious—and unanswerable—questions.

A call went up on the police radio—another multiple murder at the docks.  Without a word, the two policemen finished their drinks and returned to the streets.

April Forever Chapter 3: A Qualitative Comparison

The clock read 8:00, which to Casey Jones seemed blasphemous: no way was he up that early.  Not after Shadow’s 3:00 a.m. crying bout, which took half an hour to stop.  And her other one, at five.  And yet there he was—life was full of small miracles.

After checking on Shadow—sound asleep, the lucky little father-waker—Casey made his way to the kitchen, but not before running into the April who wasn’t his wife.  She was watching the morning news—something about a claim by Tea Party Party economists that invading the Triceraton Republic would eliminate the need for taxes and solve the deficit—and looked like she’d been up for a while.  “Geez Louise—how is it you’re up this early?”

“Oh—hey Casey,” said April who wasn’t his wife and had world-class breasts under that shirt of hers. “I’m just catching up on some news—the early bird gets the Peabody and all that.  I don’t understand half the stories, but still, it’s a hard habit to break.”

“Gotcha,” said Casey, who didn’t get it at all.  News to him were something that mattered to smarter, more employed people than him.  If something truly important occurred in the world, he’d eventually hear about it from his friends or from April. The one exception to this (aside from anything having to do with the Purple Dragons) occurred on 9/11, whose events led him to spend the entire day at Angel’s grandmother’s watching the coverage with the rest of the people at their apartment complex, until a lack of food and sleep caused him to pass out from exhaustion.

“I’m going to make myself some breakfast,” Casey told April who was not his wife, had world-class breasts under that shirt of hers and looked all kinds of cute with her hair all messy like that.  “You want any?  I can make a mean pancake.”

“As long as it doesn’t include pizza or raw fish.”

He didn’t get the reference, but didn’t ask for elaboration.  He left their visitor behind and arrived at the kitchen, where he set about the task of preparing breakfast.

For most of his adult life, Casey Jones had one simple philosophy when it came to food: if it had instructions more complicated than “add milk to bowl” or “insert in microwave and press buttons”, it was not worth preparing.  After he and April became a couple, this slowly began changing, particularly after he discovered that his future wife (herself no big fan of cooking) found men who cooked to be quite sexy.  Over time, he had acquired a modest repertoire of foods he liked to prepare, and pancakes topped the list (and no, the fact that several of its toppings could be applied onto the human body for impromptu fun had nothing to do with it, thank you very much).  As he prepared to add the blueberries to the batter, he noticed that April who was not his wife, who looked all kind of cute with her hair tussled up like that and whom he now saw had awesome legs had joined him in the kitchen.  “You want anything special in your pancakes?” He asked.

“Blueberries are fine.”

Casey watched the pancake mix for the telltale bubbles; once these popped, it was time to turn the semi-solid product around to let the other half harden.  He’d finished his first batch of pancakes when he asked his visitor: “So, is there a Casey Jones where you’re from?”

“No,” said his guest.  Upon seeing his disappointment, she quickly added “…t that I know of.  There very well could be. In fact, it’s almost probable.”

Casey responded to this courtesy with a lopsided grin.  “Thanks.  By the way, once April wakes up, she’ll take you out to shop for anything you might need.  That okay?”

“That’s fine.  By the way, I never asked: what do you work at?”

Casey looked at the otherworldly journalist uncertainly.  April—the one who was his wife, whom he loved unconditionally and who would always be a total babe—had told him about the importance her counterpart placed on career,  and he’d hoped that she wouldn’t ask about his.  “I…um…I do lots of stuff.  I keep the building running, help out at the store…Oh, and I’m a mechanic—sort of.  I mean, I help my buds out whenever their cars or bikes break down.”  Smooth, Jones.

Casey tried to gauge April-who-was-not-his wife’s reaction, but found it impossible; her many notable physical attributes apparently also included a poker face. He hoped the lack of obvious disappointment meant that she did not in fact think of him as a general failure—he just didn’t agree, and he didn’t want to get into

As he finished the last of the pancakes, April—the one who was his wife, would always be a total babe, had awesome legs, breasts, and looked all kinds of cute with her hair all messy like that—joined the pair in the kitchen, and the three—plus Shadow, now brought into the dining room—had breakfast.

*          *          *

“Hey, April…do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t met the turtles?”

The two Aprils had been strolling through Prospect Park after a morning of shopping.  After three hours of strolling through Brooklyn, April had everything she needed for her stay in alternate New York: underwear, a notepad, a packet of pens, a tape recorder (she’d have preferred a camera, but in the end they decided it would have been too expensive, particularly since her host was footing the bill), a disposable cell phone (other April’s idea) and a canister of pepper spray (ditto).  Afterwards they’d gone to lunch at Martin’s, a hamburger place she loved in her universe, and which was fortunately intact in this one. With nothing else that needed doing, they’d decided to stop at the park to unwind.

Her companion did not take long in answering.  “Assuming I were even alive and not in jail for colluding with Baxter Stockman?  Probably working at a tech job somewhere and growing unhappy.” The shop-keeper’s eyes looked troubled as she said this; this was something’ she’d obviously thought about before.  “Why do you ask?”

“Well, it’s just that, well, how can you not think about it? One day I’m hotshot reporter April O’Neil, the next I can’t take a step without having to play babysitter to four manic-depressive turtles, getting kidnapped, or discovering a new mutant monstrosity—it’s the sort of thing where you end up dividing your life between ‘before’ and ‘after’, and I wonder what could have been—you know?”

The reporter felt her counterpart’s eyes upon hers, all sympathy and understanding.  “Hell yes.  God knows I’ve had times when I wished I’d never met them.    And I won’t deny that they’ve caused me a lot of grief over the years.  It doesn’t matter.  They’re family.”

“But they can be so annoying!  Can you believe that Leonardo once threw open tubes of lipstick at my paintings?  He called it ‘target practice’—and he’s supposed to be the responsible one!”

To her surprise, her counterpart was actually taken aback by that. “Sounds like your turtles are more of a handful than mine are,” the shop-keeper opined.  “But yeah, that will happen too—I know I’ve wanted to kill my turtles once or twice when we lived together (and I’ll tell you about that later): but let me tell you something: a few years back, the turtles disappeared—poof!—into thin air.  We heard nothing about them for a fucking year.  And you know what?  That was by far the hardest year of my life.”

Now it was the reporter’s turn to look concerned.  “What happened?”

“Lots of things.  Little things that combined with big things.  My father had a stroke, and after spending about a month in the hospital, he had to stay with my sister until he died a few months later.  Then there were the money problems caused by the hospital bill and the economy… Also, I discovered that nobody will hire me because apparently I am no longer considered qualified enough to do tech work I could do in my sleep.

“Granted, the bad stuff didn’t happen because the turtles weren’t there, and having them here wouldn’t have prevented any of it from happening.  Still, it’d have been easier if they’d been there.  Mikey’s jokes, Splinter’s advice…I could have really used them. It would have made all the crap I went through a bit more bearable.”

April remained silent as she heard her counterpart, partly because there was nothing she could say, and partly because her account seemed so foreign. Granted, she knew what a stroke was, and had a theoretical understanding on how the economy worked, but these things had always been just that—theoretical.  In her world, nobody ever got strokes or got cancer or ever went to the hospital for anything not related to the effects of some weird ray or potion.  Death was something you heard happened in some places but never affected anyone you actually knew.  To have someone actually have to deal with these things and the Shredders and aliens and Technodromes…how did the people in this universe do it?  It gave her a new level of respect for the people in this skewed mirror universe.

“But I’m just rambling,” said the other April.  “The guys eventually returned, and things eventually got better.  Crap won’t stop happening with them here, but I’d rather face it with them than without them—even if it means losing more breakables than the proverbial china shop.”

“I see,” said April.  She did, in fact, feel that way towards the turtles—sometimes.  Half the time, they were the funniest, most heroic, best people one could hope to know.  The other half?  Well, the kindest way to put it would be “children”.  Specifically, two-year-olds.  Raised by wolves—which when you considered the reality, wasn’t that far from the truth.  Given Splinter’s ability to remain calm in the middle of a tornado, he wasn’t sure how his students turned out the way they did.

And if they were gone for a year?  Assuming the Shredder and his goons didn’t end up conquering the world, she didn’t know how she’d feel.  She’d have to find something else to cover, that’s for sure.  And her relationship with her boss would probably improve.  And she’d probably get kidnapped a lot less.  Aside from that, she had no idea.

The two Aprils continued their stroll, stopping occasionally to appreciate some interesting sight or another.   As they stopped to pet two adorable dogs and chat with their owner (who didn’t seem to mind at all having two attractive women just walk up and start talking to him), they heard a sudden “boom” in the distance.

As both women scanned the area for the source of the sound, they spotted a plume of dark smoke rising about three blocks away.  As they watched the spectacle, April spotted a black and white streak speeding through the New York sky.  Not a bird.  Not a plane.

“Probably Silver Sentry,” the older April explained, with the indifferent attitude of someone for whom flying men were as common as jaywalkers.  She, on the other hand, was entranced, not just be the idea of real-life superheroes, but by a familiar feeling in her gut: a story.  Taking out her new notepad, a pen and the tape recorder from her shopping bags, she left the other items with her counterpart, and with a hasty excuse, set towards the scene of the event.

*          *          *

When April the shop-keeper finally reached the scene of the explosion—an apartment complex across the street from the Methodist Hospital—the site had already been cordoned off to keep inevitable onlookers at bay, and the fire was mostly under control.  Her reporter counterpart, immediately visible in her jumpsuit (now liberally mottled with black stains from the smoke—according to one of the onlookers, she’d entered the burning building and had rescued a teenaged boy) within the gaggle, was interviewing one of the firemen not working with the blaze.  Silver Sentry, she heard, had come and gone, staying only long enough to get the tenants out from the burning edifice and to make sure the N.Y.F.D. would have no problems with the fire itself.  Fortunately, the incident’s location meant there was no shortage of medical personnel treating the affected tenants.

As she neared her “sister” in order to inform her that her continued stay at her apartment was contingent on her never pulling that stunt again, April noticed that her counterpart was practically beaming.  This was it: her element.  This is what she was meant to do.  For the second time in as many days, April found herself growing jealous of her other-dimensional counterpart.

“Hey, April!”  The reporter said, turning to her as she saw her approaching.  “Give me just a couple more minutes, and I’ll be done, okay?” She returned to her fireman interviewee, whom April noticed was paying an inordinate amount of attention to the reporter, and was actually trying his hand at flirting with her.  Unfortunately for him, his advances seemed to be going over their target’s head, although this did not deter him from writing down his phone number on the reporter’s notepad.

True to her word, April was soon done with the interviews and reunited with her counterpart.  As they walked to the nearest subway station in the first part of their trek back home, the two Aprils talked about the events that had just transpired.

“So, are you going to call that fireman?” April the Shop-Owner asked, vicariously happy at the attention her counterpart had received.

“Who, Paul?  What do you mean?  You mean, to confirm his statement?” her double said blankly.

“You didn’t notice?  He was into you!  You should ask him out—he was hot.” Figures—her one chance to the “Sex and the City” gal-pal thing, and it turned out to be with the one for whom men where apparently not a factor.  “Anyway, change of subject.  Did you really enter the building as it was burning?”

“Yeah, I did,” the reporter said, with a smile that plainly expressed how much she’d loved it.  “I wanted to see how the Silver Sentry worked, and then I saw a kid that needed help.  So I helped—how could I not?”

Again with that certainty.  April didn’t know whether to admire her counterpart or to shake her until she regained a measure of sense.   Had she herself ever been that stupid?  While, assaulting a U.S. Government base or taking on the Technodrome hadn’t been highlights of rational though, she could at least justify them.  This…?  No wonder the reporter’s turtles had to rescue her as often as they did.

And yet there she was, none the worse for wear, and with the sort of afterglow she herself only rarely managed to emit.  Even the fire seemed to have left her untouched, outside of token damage to her clothing.  Clearly someone—God, the universe, some cosmic writer—was keeping her under its aegis.  And if one was indeed blessed, why wouldn’t one take those risks?

Finally, the two Aprils arrived at Hell’s Kitchen, and after a few minutes’ walk towards one of the old Irish-American streets still (relatively) untouched by the neighborhood’s encroaching gentrification, they arrived at the 2nd Time Around antique store—home.

*          *          *

He truly was blessed, the man formerly in the baseball cap thought, as he observed the two women entering the antique store.  After getting a glimpse of the woman in yellow the day before, he had expected never to meet her again, leaving his memories of her exquisite form to haunt him for the rest of time.  But God, as always, was with him; as he took the subway to nowhere in particular, she saw her again, a demon in bright (if slightly smudged), form-fitting yellow—and with that glance all his uncertainties evaporated.  “Thy will be done”, he said to his invisible conversation partner.

Thus, he had followed, and had ascertained the woman’s living place.  Now it was just a matter of time.

—-

Notes: As fans of the old cartoon already know, there is indeed a Casey Jones in the old cartoon universe; April as I’m writing her has yet to meet him.  For the record, this all takes place between seasons two and three of the old toon—Turtles Forever, on the other hand, takes place sometime in the middle of season 2.

Although I don’t recall if Reporter April’s age was ever set in stone, I consider her to be twenty-six for the purposes of this story.  Shop-Keeper April, on the other hand, is thirty-one.  Casey is either thirty-three or thirty-four, depending on what month I decide he was born in, and Shadow is between three and six months old.

As for what reporter April plans to do with all her notes on the fire, read on.

April Forever, Chapter 2: On A-Teams, Breasts, and Counterparts

She didn’t really look like her, the woman sitting before her: once you got past the skin tone and height, the differences outweighed the similarities.  Hair color and style, eye color, posture…even her body shape was considerably slimmer than her own hourglass figure.  But still, staring at those green eyes that were themselves staring back at hers, she could tell. Holy scoop!

“Hi…April,” she said, testing the name out.  “I’m sorry for intruding, but Casey—your husband—he told me you might be able to help.  He was kind enough to rescue me, and he told me that you might be able to help me get back to my world.”  She was babbling.  Not good.

“Welcome…April,” the other her said, equally uncomfortable with the name.  “We’re…glad to help.  Unfortunately, Don—you know Don, right?—is the one who knows how our transdimentional portal generator works, and he’s off at a retreat with Splinter and the other turtles.   It’ll be at least a couple of days before we can even contact him.”

That was not what she wanted to hear.  “So I’m stuck here?  Oh, brother!  You guys seem nice at all, but I need to get back to my world!”

It’d been the wrong thing to say, as April noticed that fact immediately.  The tension in the room had been high; now her unconscious snub had made it nigh-unbearable.   “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean it that way.  It’s just…this world is so different.”

Casey, the sweetie, was doing all he can to ease things. After offering her a chair, he took out a wine glass from the pantry and poured her some wine, which she gladly took (even if alcohol really wasn’t her thing).  “So, babe, April here is a reporter,” he said, as he took his own chair.   “I’m not sure, but we think she’s from the same place those other guys were from—the ones we met a couple of years back.”

They’d arrived at that conclusion as they’d walked to Casey’s apartment at his insistence.  After making some small talk, he’d suddenly asked her if he’d ever met any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a question which she answered in the affirmative.  From there, they’d deduced that she’d arrived at another dimension, and, after sharing their respective experiences with guys who weren’t quite the guys, realized that they’d each met the other’s turtles—probably.

Unfortunately, Casey couldn’t stay: a baby’s cry came from another room, causing him to excuse himself and leave her alone with her counterpart.

*          *          *

Now alone with the jumpsuit-clad her, April was still speechless—not because she had nothing to say, but the exact opposite. She wondered if her counterpart was having the same trouble.

“Casey’s a great guy, isn’t he?” Jumpsuit said, nicely sidestepping the issue.

“Yeah, he is,” she said, “He’s rough around the edges, but now…I can’t imagine living without him,” she said, with startling conviction.  While it was true, it wasn’t the sort of thing she would have admitted to a total stranger—even if the stranger was, in effect, herself.  “How about you?  Anybody special in your life?”

“Not really.  It’s hard to find good men when you spend all your time between work, hanging out with mutant turtles, and getting threatened, kidnapped and tied up.”

“Oh,” she said, surprised at the frank admission. “Does that happen much—getting kidnapped?”

Other-Her rolled her eyes.  “More often than I’d like.  It’s gotten to the point where I can recognize a rope’s brand by feel.  Still, the turtles always rescue me, and it helps me get the story, so I guess I can’t complain too much.”

Yes you can. You can complain a lot, April said to herself.  She did not express this opinion. She didn’t usually seek trouble, but it still ended up finding her much too often for her liking.  Actually inviting it…

“I’m guessing you don’t get kidnapped a lot, though,” said the Other Her.

“Kidnapped specifically?  Only twice—once by my ex-employer Baxter Stockman and another by aliens.  Threatened?  A whole bunch.”

Now it was the other her’s turn to be surprised.  “You worked for Baxter Stockman?!”

“Um, yes,”  she said sheepishly.  “For about a month, until I realized what he was up to with those mousers of his.  He tried to kill me, I ran into the sewers, and the turtles rescued me.  And that’s how I met them.”

“Really.  I met them when saved me from the Shredder’s goons.  I was doing a story on a bunch of mysterious thefts, and I guess he didn’t like what I was saying.  Boy, were they in for a surprise.  The mousers came in later, when they destroyed my apartment.”

“Heh.  That’s funny,” other-April muttered.

“What?  Losing my apartment?”

“No!  Not that…sorry to hear about it, though.  It’s just…you were chased into the sewers by the Shredder’s goons and had your apartment destroyed by mousers.  I was chased into the sewers by mousers and had my apartment destroyed by the Foot.  It’s just weird, is all.”

“That IS freaky,” other April said, smiling.  “Sorry to hear about your apartment, though.”

The ice now broken, the two Aprils began chatting animatedly about the similarities and dissimilarities between their universes.  It was the sort of conversation April never really had anymore, and the type she hadn’t realized she’d missed.  The turtles (barring Donny, sometimes) were more fun to be around than to talk to; Casey was Casey, with a specific range of approachable topics; Robyn lived in L.A.; Karai, when she wasn’t trying to kill them, was too steeped in her weirdness to make conversation a comfortable prospect; Splinter was alright, when he was around, which wasn’t a lot, lately.  Having someone she could talk about in this manner felt like something new, and something that she would like to do regularly.

Some minutes later, Casey returned cradling a still-crying Shadow in his hands.  “Okay, babe, I’m stumped.  I changed her diaper and tried feeding her, but nothing’s working.  Any ideas?”

“Let me try,” the other her interjected.  Taking the five-month old from Casey, she began gently rocking her.  It worked: within moments, the crying stopped, and Shadow settled back into blissful sleep.  “She’s adorable,” the other April commented as she returned the baby to Casey.  “What’s her name?”

“Her name’s Shadow,” Casey said.

April bit her lip in frustration.  In the months they had had Shadow, the infant had never really taken to April, a situation which persistently frustrated her.  Trying to hold the baby in the way her counterpart had would have been a surefire way to increase her crying, and there the baby was, reacting to a complete stranger if she were her actual mother.  It felt like a personal affront, even though she knew it wasn’t and that it would be unfair to treat her as it had been. “So April, it’s getting late,” she said, trying to change the subject before her darker emotions overtook the pleasure she’d just felt at having made a new friend.   “Would you like to change into something else before going to bed?  I mean, you are staying here, right?”

“You mean I can stay?”  other-her said, brightening up.

“You mean she can stay?” Casey mimicked, mouth open.

“Of course,” April said, not entirely convinced that she believed the words coming out of her mouth.  You need help, and who are we to deny it to you?  After all, you’re almost family.”

*          *         *

April’s wardrobe was expansive but limited; aside from a few specialized looks, it consisted mostly of non-descript pants and t-shirts.   In the end, other-April picked one of those t-shirts and a pair of cotton shorts.

“Good thing we’re more or less the same size,” the other April commented offhandedly, as she observed how her new outfit fit her. “Although it look like I’ll have to buy some new bras tomorrow.” Indeed, the top she’d chosen fit her considerably snugly in the chest area, making them more prominent than the shirt’s original owner’s ever were.

“I have to ask,” said April, as she changed into a similar outfit. “Why the jumpsuit?  Is it fashionable where you’re from?”

“Not really.  I guess I don’t really have a reason—it just feels right.  I was just walking by the store, saw it, and I fell in love with it.  It also helps that it’s actually quite comfortable—oh, and I hear its quite popular with my audience.”

“Really.  Male or female?”

“Male—why do you ask?”

“No reason,” April said, coyly.  Funny story, though: one time, I had to pretend to be a reporter to get some information for the guys…guess how I dressed up.”

“Get out!,” other-her said, her face all mischievous glee.  “We really are the same person, aren’t we?”

“Guess so,” April said with a smile.

*          *         *

With Casey and Mrs. O’Neil turned in for the night, Miss O’Neil was now alone in the living room with nothing but a TV for companionship. It was late, and she would normally have been sleeping soundly right now, but the events of the day had left her with an indissoluble restlessness.  After lying on the couple’s couch for ten minutes trying to call forth the sleep, she gave up and got up.

The couple had allowed her to peruse and use their DVD collection (DVD’s were apparently what had replaced cassette tapes in this dimension) and after scanning the racks filled with movies with unfamiliar names and even more unfamiliar actors, she picked one with a familiar title—The A-Team—and, after figuring out how to work the player, she sat back on the couch and began watching.

Although it had the incorrect actors, the movie was otherwise enjoyable.  Still, it underscored the differences between this world and the one she had left behind–the acting, the way the characters spoke, the situation–it all seemed foreign to her.

Would she ever return?  Casey and April had promised her that Donatello would return her home; given the mixed successes of her own Donatello’s inventions, she wasn’t all that sure.  Still, everything would turn out all right—right?  It always did—in her universe.

April’s thoughts turned to her job at Channel Six and her boss, Burne Thompson.  If she indeed did end up spending more than a few days in this universe, she’d have to give him a suitable excuse for her absence, particularly since she wouldn’t have a story to make up for it.  Or did she?  Parallel universes were definitively a story, and an extended stay could make for a great feature, but what would her angle be?  Plus, she’d need a camera—another things for tomorrow’s to do list.  So yeah:  Item 1: Buy underwear.  Item 2: get camera.  Item 3: To be determined, which she quite liked—ever since meeting the turtles, she’d barely get time to herself, and she was glad for the opportunity, even if it required getting herself transported to another dimension.  What would tomorrow bring?  She wasn’t sure, but she was excited to find out.

—-

Author’s note: Shadow Jones, for those who don’t know, is Casey (and then April’s) stepdaughter from the original Mirage comics.  Her story will be elaborated upon in future chapters.

April Forever, Chapter 1: Forever and a Day

It was just one of those days, April O’Neil reflected, with no small amount of annoyance.  Her eternal search for the Almighty Story had led her to volunteer herself as a test subject for one of New York’s countless crackpot scientists’ experiments—this time, one involving instantaneous transportation technology that The Shredder had perfected a year ago—and now she stood alone in an empty warehouse that looked nothing like Dr. Stein’s laboratory.

April stepped outside the building—fortunately, the shutter wasn’t locked—and into the streets.  A quick scan of the skyline confirmed that she was still in good old Manhattan…except that from the looks of it, “good” and “old” had given way to “dark” and “overbearing”.  It even smelled different, with the subtle smell of rotting fruit diffused over everything.

Indeed, as she walked through the familiar streets of the city, the aura of Wrong intensified.  The fashions, the people, the cars…it was New York alright, as seen through the eyes of a rather disturbed being.  A look at a newspaper (date: February 18, 2011) revealed similar weird disparities: no articles on Ninja Turtles, Technodrome attacks, or groundbreaking experiments in animal control, but plenty of stuff on the economy, celebrity gossip and “tea parties”.  And who the heck was President Obama?  Clearly she’d been sent to an alternate universe, or a dark future.

After trying unsuccessfully to hail the guys on her Turtle Communicator (and wasn’t it weird how a lot of people seemed to be talking into tiny handheld phones?) April continued her tentative exploration, wishing she had a camera with her—after all, a dark Manhattan would make for a great story. She didn’t get far before spotting a threatening-looking street thug—and she had lots of experience identifying those—making advances towards her.  As she turned around to avoid running into him, she saw another thug coming in from another direction, and then yet another: before she knew it, she had been corralled into a darkened alley, with the thugs cutting off her only escape route.   One of those days indeed.

“They never learn, do they,” said the leader, once they’d caught up to her.  “These streets are dangerous—particularly if you’re walking alone dressed like that.”

What’s wrong with the way I dress? “Listen guys, if you want to kidnap me or whatever, please know, I have friends.” A bluff, and not one she had much confidence in, but stranger things had happened.

“Kidnap you?  Nah, we’ll just settle for your money—or something of equal value.”  The last part was said as his eyes burned holes in the reporter’s chest, which suddenly felt rather exposed in her semi-open jumpsuit.

As she hoped against hope for a surprise save by the turtles, April braced for the worst.  One of the thugs moved in towards her, but before he could reach the reporter, he was beaned at the back of the head by a bottle of what appeared to be baby food thrown at explosive speed.

“Score!” said a voice behind the three thugs, belonging to a man April couldn’t see, blocked as he was from her view by her attackers.  The three punks—including one with sludge and blood mixed in his hair—turned towards the newcomer, leaving her unattended.

“You know,” said April’s would-be savior.  “I might have semi-retired from the vigilante business, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you smegs assault the city’s babes—you got that?”

The three thugs rushed to attack their new opponent, but that turned out to be a mistake: with martial arts moves that at times seemed even better than the turtles’, the man—which, as April could now see, was white, black shoulder-length haired, early thirties, possessed a lower-middle class demeanor, carried a grocery bag, and was not attractive in a way that her friend Irma would have found irresistible—quickly dispatched the thugs, leaving them unconscious on the street.  Once, he was done, he turned towards her, and with a smile said: “You okay?”

April wanted to run in and kiss her savior.  She settled for a peck on his cheek.  “Thank you.  If you hadn’t come when you did…”

“No problem—it’s what I do,” the man said, blushing lightly.  She noticed him staring at her, looking as if he was trying to make his mind up about something.  “Listen, are you okay?  You look sort of…lost.”

After considering her words—savior or not, she knew nothing about this man—she decided for the truth.  “You’re right.  This might sound weird, but I’m not sure I know where I am.  I mean, I know where I am, but I don’t know if where I am is where I’m supposed to be, or how I got here.  Does that make any sense at all?”  She said, with a hesitant smile.

“I’ve heard weirder.  Well, if it helps, this is New York, and I’m Casey Jones.  Pleased to meet ya…”

“April.  April O’Neil.”

*          *          *

It was one of those days, April O’Neil reflected, as she used one of her newly-scarce moments of peace and quiet to pore over all the reading material Karai had supplied on how to begin a start-up.  Designing a commercially viable fully-electric car had been simplicity itself compared to the gargantuan task that was legally bringing it into the market.  What’s more, Casey had just called to announce that he was bringing someone over, and given his tone, she did not expect terribly good things from it.

As she sipped from her glass of cheap wine—a habit she’d cultivated during college as a way of carrying on through cram sessions with girlfriends, and which she occasionally indulged in when alone—and tried to fight off sleep, April tried to read a particularly tricky line on patents before realizing that she’d already read it twice before.  Oh well—getting a few minutes of shut-eye wouldn’t kill anyone.  After moving the papers away from her as to not accidentally drool on them, she rested her head against her left arm and dozed off.

As she finished her lecture on the plausibility of Minovsky Particles to an audience of talking cow heads, April was brought back to reality by a pat on her shoulder.  “Hey, Babe,” Casey said.  “It’s me.”

“Casey…” April said with a smile that time had made instinctive.  “I was just going through these papers…guess I’m more tired than I thought.”  Then as she shook off her sleepiness, she added: “Did you bring your friend with you?”

“Yeah…about that,” he said sheepishly.  “Remember that time the guys met that other version of the guys, except that they weren’t quite the guys?”

“Yes…” Where was he going with this?  Surely he didn’t mean…

“Well, it’s sort of happened again, only this time…well, look.” Casey said, pointing towards the apartment entrance.

The woman standing there wore a dazed look, the sort that suggested that she was staring into the mouth of madness and was trying her damnedest not to fall inside.  Her face was that of a stranger, but April recognized it instantly.  She.  Herself.  April O’Neil.

Electric Boogaloo, Chapter 6: Lauren Stanton

“Hey, Chung! Is that you?”

Detective Tri Chung recognized the loud, unselfconscious voice immediately: Lauren Stanton, newspaper reporter for the Daily Globe and, on any given day, one of the top five people whose face the detective did not wish to see. So close; another second later, and he would have been inside the men’s restroom and safely out of sight. Maybe it wasn’t too late; pretending the sound of his name had simply come from a particularly particular (and random) gust of wind, he opened the restroom door, entered, and hoped that decorum would keep the reporter out.

It didn’t work. With the customary chutzpah Chung couldn’t believe he’d once found attractive, Stanton followed him into the restroom and parked herself in the urinal next to his.

“Oh, good, it is you. So, how’ryou doing?”

“Fine…until a minute ago.” Chung grunted. Courtesy, he’d learned years ago, did not get you anywhere with Stanton. While rudeness wasn’t much more effective, it at least made him feel better. “What do you want?”

“Same thing as always. I’m working on a story, and I want to run a few things by you, make sure I’m on the right track.”

“And you’re sure it has to be me that you ask these questions to? You know, Vivian still doesn’t let me talk to you.”

For a moment, it seemed like a barb had actually gotten through to Lauren. He could have just imagined it though, as the reporter then rolled her eyes, all mock indignation. “Not my problem. I’m not going to tell her. Will you?”

Tri said nothing; the damage had already been done. “Fine. Can we just…not do it here?” he finally answered, using his head to gesture towards his nether regions. “Let me finish, and we’ll talk at the library.”


The courtroom library was empty save for the librarian and a couple of others, which lent the area preternatural (even for, well, a library) silence. This, in turn, amplified every sound Tri made to a level that made the detective afraid to move, lest his noise reverberate through the room and bring unwanted attention upon himself.

Lauren, on the other hand, had no such compunctions. Even with her so-called library voice, her entire being screamed “loud” to such a level that she’d attracted the librarian’s disapproving gaze even before the reporter had said anything. Not that Lauren had noticed.

“So basically, I’ll just tell you what I’ve got so far, and you tell me if I’m on the mark–is that okay?” she asked. She had her a notepad at the ready, despite the recorder she’d laid on the table. “So what’s this about ‘The Shredder’?”

Over the next half-hour, Tri did his best to answer the reporter’s questions truthfully, while avoiding the subjects Miller had forbidden his team from mentioning. As the interview went on, the detective grew increasingly more impressed with the amount of information the reporter had managed to dig up on her own. While she hadn’t learned everything, she’d put the pieces together and had correctly determined the cause of the war and the players’ role within it. Granted, most of the information would be useless in the hands of the police–it was mostly cobbled up from anecdotes and hearsay from various anonymous and non-anonymous sources, but that was, after all why Lauren had sought him out. As the interview continued, he felt himself getting more comfortable despite himself. Him and Lauren–just like old times. Funny how one night can change things.

“Okay, one final thing,” Lauren said. “How goes the massacre docks investigation?”

“We’ve made progress, is all I’ll say,” Chung answered–although personally, he wouldn’t call it that. Elisa Maza had told the detail about her encounter with Tony Dracon, and while Gordon had apparently found it worthy of follow-up–hence today’s visit to the courthouse–Chung himself had found the tale too suspicious by half. While a quick look at the records seemed to confirm that there had indeed been some strange business with the parole board and some big-time mobsters*, his suspicions about Maza’s encounter remained, particularly when it came to Elisa’s claim that Dracon’s life would be in danger if he was brought in. Even in the unlikely case that it was true, it wasn’t Elisa’s call to make. As for “Mr. Touch and Mr. Go”? Please.

“Well, thanks for everything, Tri,” Lauren said, as she place her notepad back in her purse.

“Whoa whoa whoa, Lauren. Is that it? If I’m going to risk my marriage talking to you, you better have something I can use. I can’t be doing all the giving.”

Lauren rolled her eyes once again, although this time, the gesture was accompanied by a smile. “You’re learning. Fine–I got this tip from an unsolicited phone call, so I don’t know how useful it is, but I heard that The Five are sending one of their own–guy named “Tony Jr.”–to Baltimore next week to score the drugs for operating capital. You might want to check that out.”

“Hmm…both suspiciously vague and suspiciously specific. Sounds like a setup. Anything else?”

“Nothing you can use or don’t already know–y’all know about the hockey-mask wearing vigilante, right?”

“Since early last year.” He’d been the subject of at least one police alert, but after realizing that his targets were all members of the Purple Dragons, they’d unofficially agreed to ignore him. After the gang war had begun, he’d even begun hearing expressions of gratitude among the force, an idea Chung didn’t like at all. “Anything in particular about him?”

“Not really. He’s around, he scares the crap out of people–that’s it. Well, I’ve gotta run. Bushkin’s going to have my ass if I don’t give him something by tonight. See you around, Tri.”

Tri followed Lauren outside the courthouse and then went his own way. He removed his cell phone from his pocket, and considered the potential hypocrisy of calling Miller with sketchy, second-hand information, decided that he could live with it, and made the call.

*          *          *

Ashi-gumi

(Redirected from Foot Clan)

The Ashi-gumi (足組, literally “Foot Group”), also known as the Ashishizoku (足氏族, “Foot Clan”), is the name of the largest Yakuza group operating in Japan,  with an estimated membership of 50,000 members and interests in prostitution, illegal gambling, smuggling, drugs, money laundering, extortion and real estate.

Bingo, though Longer, as the Wikipedia™ page came into view–his trip to the public library had not been wasted.  He hadn’t been expecting much from his online search, but given his failure to obtain any information from Kessler and Miller’s inability to get the detective back on regular rotation, he didn’t have many other choices if he wanted to continue on the trail.  He was surprised at the amount of information there seemed to be–he’d expected obsessive secrecy to be a given when it came to crime groups.  After opening a separate window for “Yakuza” for later perusal, he continued reading.

History

Although its current incarnation was founded in 1918, the Ashi-gumi has been in existence as the Ashishizoku since Japan’s Heian period, when it consisted of a tightly-knit group of brigands under the command of a man commonly referred to as the Kiruhito (literally, “person who cuts”, although the title is popularly translated as “The Shredder”) .  Often acting as mercenaries, the group existed in this form until 1600, when Tokugawa Ieyasu began using them for various purposes in his bid to unify Japan under his rule. Led by the then-Kirihito Saki Keiichi, the Ashishizoku proved instrumental to Ieyasu’s victory in the Battle of Sekigahara and the establishment of the Shogunate.  After Ieyasu established himself as shogun, Keiichi was granted the title of daimyo and his own territory within the Satsuma province, and many members of the Ashigumi were given the status of full-fledged samurai.

Despite their new legitimate status, the Ashigumi continued their involvement in illicit activities, acting as the Tokugawa clan’s extraofficial enforcers and secretly undermining various rival daimyos via espionage, theft, or assassination.  They also had covert involvement in the operations of the lower Tekiya (Peddlers) and Bakuto (Gamblers) classes, which further increased the clan’s coffers.   Although these activities were an open secret among Japanese nobility of the time, the Tokugawa’s patronage and their large numbers made the group unassailable.

After the effects of the Meiji Restoration restored power to the emperor and dissolved the daimyo system, the Saki Clan severed its ties to the Ashishizoku, leaving the group adrift.  While most of its members belonging to the samurai class became thieves or beggars, the ones operating as Tekiya and Bakuto continued operating under the leadership of Ameyama Shinji.

Longer was not an educated man; he knew the bare basics of U.S. history, and could name every president since Nixon, but anything relating to any other country was just Greek–or Japanese, as the case might be–to him.  Still, he felt he’d managed to get a good grasp of the gist of the Foot’s existence.  He moved on.

The modern Ashi-gumi

In 1918, the Foot Clan reorganized itself in accordance with the structure of then-fledging yakuza groups such as the Yamaguchi-gumi.  Now calling themselves the Ashi-gumi, the group quickly took over several smaller groups, quickly becoming one of the most influential organized groups at the time.

Since 1959, when it bought its main rival for the sum of 9 billion yen, the Ashi-gumi has been the largest criminal group in Japan, controlling up to 80% of the organized crime in the country.  It has also greatly expanded the scope of its operations into fields such as real estate, banking, and the stock market.  It is also heavily involved with politics, donating money several prominent members of the National Diet.

With the ascendance of current Ashi-gumi boss Sawaki Oroku in 1984, the cartel has also been expanding outwardly.  A 2001 joint report  by Japan’s National Police Agency and Interpol concluded that the group had operations in countries such as Russia, South Africa, and Mexico.  Since 2004, there have also been reports of significant Ashi-gumi activity in the United States, particularly in Hawaii.

Longer was growing frustrated: although the information was interesting, little of it was actually useful, and what little was useful was disillusioning.  The mafia was bad enough, but whoever the Foot were, they seemed to be operating on an entirely different level.

The Mon Controversy

After the Saki clan cast the Ashishizoku adrift in 1866, the criminal group continued using their protectorate’s mon (crest), the three-toed dragon, as their own.  The gesture remained unchallenged until the Ashi-gumi was officially founded in 1918, when the Saki Zaibatsu, headed by descendants of the Saki Clan , decided to take legal action to reclaim their family symbol.  After a protracted legal battle, it was decided that both groups’ claims to the symbol were legitimate, and since then both groups hold a joint trademark on the mon, and both currently use it as their official logo.

With that, Longer remembered where he’d seen the symbol from; the Saki Technologies building had been one of New York’s newest landmarks, and the same symbol that had adorned the dead man’s costume (now safely hidden inside his backpack after he’d  “retrieved” it from evidence control) could be seen across the city.  He made a mental note to check up on the company later on–in his book, anybody who willingly and knowingly decided to keep a logo associated with organized crime merited watching.

With his allotted time at the computer quickly winding down, Longer logged into his e-mail account and began composing a message.  After Miller had contacted him with news of his failed attempt to get him on the detail, it had become clear to Longer now that, barring a sea change in the NYPD’s makeup, he would never again do proper police work.   If he wanted to fight this war, or stop Ruffington, he’d need to try something else and after seeing that man in the Foot Clan costume, he now had an idea of what exactly that was.

Hey sis, Longer began.  Here’s hoping everythings okay in LAI need your help.  You worked on the costumes for that Justice Force movie, right?

*          *          *

Need to discuss elements of case with you. Free for lunch?

That had been the message Lin ( Koyobashi.Lin@nypd.nyc.gov) had received from Hacker (conspiracydebunker666@yahoo.com) earlier that day.  Despite the weirdness of the set-up–why just not talk in the office?–she’d fired back an e-mail agreeing with him  at a nearby Nightstone’s coffeehouse. When she arrived, she was unpleasantly surprised to see that the F.B.I. agent had apparently arrived some time before her, displaying more diligence than she usually like seeing in anyone who wasn’t part of her team.

“Lin.  Glad you could make it,” Hacker said, looking up from his copy of The Atlantic. “Do you plan to get something, or would should we just talk?”

“I’ve already eaten, thank you,” she said, as she sat opposite him on his table.  “So what is it you wanted to talk about?”

“Well, off the record, I found a couple of things…off with our experience with Kessler, and I wanted to see if you’d come to the same conclusions I did.”

” ‘Off’ is an understatement.  It’s like we stepped in the middle of a Christie novel.”  She gave a mock-shudder.  “And that Longer…I’m sorry, but the man is not normal.”

“Actually, it’s not him I was thinking about.  There’s something wrong with him yes, but I hardly he think he would have called for us if he intended to murder the man.”

“I’d say the opposite.  If you want to murder a man that’s being watched, the last thing you want is to be the only person with the opportunity to do so.”

For a second, Hacker seemed to consider this possibility.  “You’re probably right.  Still, I don’t think he’s responsible for it.  I think you are.”

If Hacker was expecting a heated reaction or outright denial, he was going to be disappointed.  “I’m sorry, I don’t get your meaning.”

“I’m saying that you, Lin Takahashi–not Koyobashi–are an agent of the Foot Clan sent to infiltrate the N.Y.P.D. to monitor and hinder the investigation on the gang war.  You killed Sean Kessler, and unless you want me to expose you, you’re going to have to do what I say.”

__

* One case in particular–that of Jack “Diamondback” Trent, who had been given 20 years for manslaughter and yet had been out in three–stood out.  Chung had been directly involved in that case, and distinctively remembered that the sentence had included no chance for parole.  The discovery had been the cause of much internal swearing on Tri’s part.

Electric Boogaloo, Chapter 5: Tony Dracon

Prison–or maybe just time in general–had not been kind to Tony Dracon.  Whereas he had once possessed a certain bad boy attractiveness that would have made him a succesful career date-rapist had he chosen to go that route, those looks had since eroded away into a man who looked far older than his thirty-four years.  His hair had gone gray, although one could still see a vertical streak of pure white running  along it.   His eyes looked permanently tired, and had lost any shred of confidence they might have possessed a decade ago.  A network of wrinkles had begun colonizing his face.  He might have been high.   Not that this was a great loss–to Elisa, the mobster’s looks now finally matched his inside.

“What makes you think I’ll help you?” Elisa repeated.

“We’ll, you’re a cop right?  Protect and serve and all that?”  Dracon said, trying to gesticulate despite having his arms handcuffed to a chair–Elisa was not in the mood to take chances.

“Sure, if you want to get technical…  Why come to me, thought?  There’s thousands of other cops.”

“Because I don’t need a cop, I need protection.  You’re the only one I know who can give me that.”

“That’s…pathetic.”  Still, while she hated to admit it, his instincts had been on the mark.  Gargoyles protect, even the dregs of society–how could she do any less?  If Dracon was indeed in danger, then that protection would (unfortunately) extend to him.  Of course, that didn’t mean she couldn’t make the best of it. “Okay, Dracon, you have my attention.  However, if you want my help, you’re going to have to tell me everything.  You’re going to tell me why you’re not in prison, who’s running your old turf, and everything you know about the massacre at the docks.”

“I noticed ‘who’s trying to kill you’ wasn’t in that list.  Anyway, the story goes something like this:

“About five years ago, me and all the leaders of The Five Families began getting visits.  I’m not exactly sure how it went for the rest, but for me, it was this Japanese guy, Kozue Nagayami–I think he actually did crap soap, he was so smooth.  In any case, he made me an offer–50 mil if we just abandoned our turf and gave all our products and contacts to their group.”

“Did the group have a name?”  Elisa asked, with obvious interest.  If true–and she knew that there was a good chance it wasn’t–this was career making intel.  The circumstances beyond The Five Families’ disappearances were the stuff of legend in police circles, with a thousand theories circulating.  To actually learn what had happened…

“Well, they didn’t really give us one, and I wasn’t exactly asking.  Still, anyone suicidal enough to talk to the cops will tell you they’re called The Foot–it’s really an open secret at this point.”

“The Foot, huh.  Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“It shouldn’t.  Rumor is they have ways of knowing if the police ever hear the name, and people who mention it to the wrong people don’t have a good track record of surviving.  Anyway, where was I…oh yeah: as a bonus, they’d have those of us who were in jail–and our top people–out on parole.  I still don’t know how they managed that.”

“And you took it.”

“Damn, Maza!  Of course I did!  I don’t know if you know, but by then, my crew was basically done–it’s a small miracle that I had any strings to pull with my group at all.  Plus, a carrot that big usually means a damn big stick.  So yeah, I took it.  I eventually got out on parole, and even after paying off my own people, I had enough money to do whatever I wanted.  Most of the other families did the same.

“So by the time I got out, the Foot already had the Purple Dragons working as their people on the ground on most of the city.  Anybody who was left wised up and decided that it was time to run.  And that’s the way it was for until now–prostitution, protection, narcotics…they were in charge of anything, and God help you if you tried to take it away from them.”

“So what happened?  I’m guessing they were weakened in some way, right?”

“Right.  A few months ago, word came down the grapevine that a group of crazies had somehow gone and killed The Shredder and that the whole thing had gone clusterfuck-shaped.  I don’t need to tell you how that’s turned out.”

“Um.  Yes, you do.  That’s the deal.”

Dracon sighed.  With marked hesitation, he began again.  “Fine.  So the five families got back together in order to make their bid.  As our first move, we were going to steal the Foot’s shipment of heroin and sell it ourselves.  It didn’t quite turn out that way, though.”

“The massacre.”

“Yup.  We’d managed to take care of all the Foot Ninja–yeah, ninja; don’t give me that look–when these two guys show up and just start wailing on us.  I’m talking some seriously fucked up shit.  You remember Pal Joey?  These one of these guys just punches him, and his face turns to…you know how mosquitos look after you squash them?  Like that.”

Elisa flinched.  She did not, in fact, remember Pal Joey, but she had seen the crime scene pictures which confirmed Dracon’s claim.  She and Cedric had been trying to determine what had caused that injury–the coroner’s report had been unsatisfactorily wishy-washy on the matter–but it never would have occurred to her that it had been made  by a fist–well, maybe it had been Goliath’s…  “So these two people, they were unarmed…” she not-quite-asked.

Dracon shot the detective a “what are you, stupid?” look.  “Yeah, unarmed.  They didn’t need them–they were like The Silver Sentry, but evil.  Fast, strong…nothing could hurt them.  And we tried, believe me.” He had a look with suggested contrition, which was not an emotion that Elisa would  have ever associated with Tony Dracon.

Summoning every reserve ounce of professionalism in a situation that was increasingly anything but, Elisa carried on with the interview.  “So, these two men…I don’t suppose you’d have their names…”

“Actually, I do.  Mr. Touch and Mr. Go.  They made sure we knew. ”

Elisa stifled a chuckle; although Dracon’s story wasn’t terribly implausible, there was a limit.  Dracon wasn’t laughing, though, and given that he’d given her what appeared to be their first solid lead  in the massacre investigation, she was willing to believe him, but still…Touch and Go?  Dracon’s physical description of the men didn’t help–they sounded like something out of a James Bond movie.  Then again, so had the Gargoyles.

“So what happened afterwards?  You survived, obviously.”

“Yeah–they weren’t paying too much attention, so I managed to play dead until they left and managed to sneak away before you cops came.  Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. ”

Dracon explained how,  as the sole (conscious) survivor of the initial massacre, he’d become the target of The Foot’s retribution.  In the past two days, his apartment had been torched, his car stolen, and his every movement watched.  Finally, he decided to take a shot with the one cop that had landed him in jail in the first place.

“So you see?  I’m a marked man.  You send me back to prison, and I wake up one morning with a knife stuck through my heart.”

Elisa looked at Dracon’s eyes.  He really did look high.  Still, she was convinced.  “Give me fifteen minutes.”

Fifteen minutes later, a tapping could be heard on the windows leading outside.  Elisa drew the curtains open, revealing their visitor, a seven-foot tall winged panther.

“Hey, Derek,” Elisa said nonchalantly.  “Thanks for coming.”

“No problem, ‘lisa,” said the beast–Derek.  “So, is this the guy?”

“Yup.  Talon, Tony Dracon—career criminal. Tony, Talon—ex-pilot, all around good guy.”

Talon moved to shake Tony’s hand, but desisted once he realized that Dracon’s hands were (still) handcuffed together.  Tony had yet to say anything, stunned as he was at the sight of a creature whose very existence violated everything he knew to be true.  And yet, even as his brain shut down from the terror, he felt a tiny blip in the back of his mind, almost like déjà vu…

“Tony, you alright?” Elisa said, bringing him back to the present.  “Like I said, Talon’s going to help you.”

“I’m going to take you to my home, The Labyrinth.  You’ll be safe there until everything blows over.”

Tony opened his mouth to complain, but nothing came out.  Even if this was a baroque plan of Elisa’s to have him killed—and his gut told him it wasn’t—it was better than dying at the hands of The Foot.  “Well, as long is it’s not someplace in the sewers…”

“Not quite,” Talon assured.  “We’ve fixed it up over the years, and now it’s actually quite homey.”

“Talon’s ready to take you whenever you’re ready.  Just say the word, and he’ll fly you over there.”

Keys in hand, Elisa moved behind Tony and undid the locks to the handcuffs.  “You’re free to go, criminal-man.  Just to let you know, once this is over and we patch up our leaks, I expect you to turn yourself in and tell everything you’ve told me to the cops.  You got that?”

“Will do—Scout’s honor.”  Then, more sober, he added, “Hey, Su—Elisa, do you have something private we could talk?  I’d like to tell you something, and I don’t need Bagheera here listening.”

Elisa led Tony to her bathroom and closed the door.  “What is it?”

“Well, I just wanted to thank you for doing this for me.  I know we kinda hate each other and all, but still, it’s real stand-up of you.  So thanks.”

“Don’t.  I’m just doing my job.  By the way, I do have something to ask you.”

“What?”

“You mentioned a couple of times that going up against The Foot is suicidal.  And yet you did it anyway.  Why?”

“Glasses.”  Tony answered brusquely.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Glasses.  You remember—my second hand man?  Black, wears horn-rimmed glasses?  Well, ever since I can remember, we’ve always been watching each other’s backs.  Best friends, he and I.  Well, he was with me that night on the docks.”

Elisa nodded.  According to the reports from that night, Glasses had been the only known survivor of the massacre, aside from Tony—although in the former’s case, it hadn’t been a particularly good thing.

“Back when I first heard about the Shredder, I got all gung-ho about the idea of going to war.  I was restless, bored…I had an itch.  One more big score for all the marbles?  Getting some payback on The Foot?  It was a dream come true.

“Well, the day after that night at the docs, I called Glasses to check in on him.  I got his wife, Nora, who told me that Glasses had been taken to the hospital—that the doctors told her that even if he woke up, he probably wouldn’t be able to function properly on his own—he wouldn’t be able to eat, talk, stand…

“People tell you it’s all part of the game—dying, getting caught.  Glasses and me?  We never really believed it—even when you were giving us trouble, we were like ‘this is nothing.’ This, however?  It’s too much.  Glasses, Nora, the kids…they didn’t deserve this. And I couldn’t even go visit them, with the Foot on my tail.”

Elisa knew the feeling.  For her first two years in the force, she’d been the same way, until Charlie, her partner back then, got killed working undercover trying to bust Dracon. It’s the kind of thing that sobers up a person.

“So yeah, that’s it.  I may not be brave enough to think I can get all Scarface on The Foot for what they did to Glasses, and I’m definitively not stupid enough to try to martyr myself for him.  Still, if I can hurt them in a small way without putting my life on the line, I’ll take it.”

Elisa stared at Tony’s eyes, trying to determine just how full of shit he was.  To her surprise, his little speech seemed sincere.  While she wasn’t about to give him credit for doing the right thing once doing the wrong thing had blown up on his face, she allowed herself to feel a measure of pity for her former nemesis.

Eventually, Tony and Elisa rejoined Talon over at the kitchen.  After a short conversation explaining to a bewildered Tony that yes, Talon was going to carry the gangster to the Labyrinth on his arms as if he were some damsel in distress, the two men flew into the night, once again leaving Elisa alone.

Elisa went to the fridge and fished out a bottle of beer.  Although she was now finally nodding off, the info Tony had given him needed to be organized before she began forgetting about the different details.  With Lacey resting on her lap, she turned her computer on and began typing.

*          *          *

Gordon Miller was exhausted.  The conversation had  lasted only a minute so far, and he had already been condescended to, subtly insulted, and riled up to the point where assaulting a superior officer seemed like an attractive option.  Chief Sterns may or may not have been good police once, Miller reflected, but he had a talent to compress an hour’s worth of conversation into one minute, a technique that at times involved shunning articles, adverbs, prepositions, and all sense of social grace–fun to watch, but hell when one was at the receiving end of it.

“This should not be so hard for you to understand.  No.” Stern said.  The “Fucking.  Way.” after the “no” was implied.

Stay calm, stay calm.  Even he can be reasoned with.  “Because you’ve yet to give an actual reason why you won’t allow a good cop–a good cop who’s not doing anything, mind you–join my dangerously understaffed detail.”

“Reasons?  Longer is insubordinate, troublesome, corrupt, irresponsible, a disgrace to this  police force, and a general pain in everyone’s ass.   The only way he’ll ever do any actual police work again is if everyone in One Police Plaza is killed in mysterious circumstances.  Now.  Ass.  Office.  Out.  Now.”

Fuming, Miller exited his superior’s office.  Stern’s argument may be one hundred percent grade-A bullshit, but that didn’t make it an ineffective one–after all, why should an insubordinate, troublesome, corrupt, irresponsible disgrace to the police force and a general pain in everyone’s ass be allowed to do police work?  The only problem was that the description fit 80% of the police force, and the fact that Longer off all people would be disciplined in this manner–even after the Ruffington debacle–indicated that something was very definitively up behind the scenes. However, he was not in the mood, or in the position to investigate–not when there was still a score of murders yet to solve.  For the moment, Longer was on his own.