Family, Friends, and Foes

Chapter Twelve
And Everyone Else

Greasepit hurried through the corridors of Limburger Tower, muttering to himself. "Oh boy, Mr. Limburger's gonna be so proud of me. I watched them all night and didn't get caught. Gosh, I wonder if he'll let me beat up those New York do-gooders now."

He rushed into Limburger's office, tripped over his feet, and slid face-first into the massive wooden desk. "Ah GreasePit, my most un-valuable, most ineffective, most disheartening employee. Are you ready to report?"

Greasepit peeled his face off the front of the desk. Wow, Mr. Limburger thinks that much of me! "Yes sirs, Mr. Limburger, I followed that Val Tech goon just like you told me to."

The large male dressed in a dapper purple suit leaned back in his chair behind the desk. He steepled his fingers together. "And what did you see, my dear boy?"

"Well, she went tose the garage. I started tose tell her that was a bad idea but then I remembered youse said just watch. She went in and then chased the littlest mousey out. The kid ran to this bar and she grabbed him and then he yelled for his daddy. And then the big mousey that talks funny came out with the other biker bunnies. But she didn't freak out till she saw the girl in black."

Limburger stirred. "Girl in black?" His white-gloved fingers typed on the keyboard and then turned the viewscreen on his desk around so GreasePit could see.

Greasepit scratched his head as he watched the black-clad figure beat up goons twice her size. Black oil oozed from his fingers. "Yeah that's her. Only she didn't have the ski mask on yet. She's human," he said brightly.

"Continue, GreasePit."

"Well she flew back here with the little mousey and the other mouseys followed. Oh and they brought the ladies with 'em. The girl in black put on her ski mask and disappeared. The biker bunnies waited and then got the little mousey down off the roof. Then the leader mousey waited till the girl came back out. And she came out through a window with two human bikers and three big turtles. And then they all drove off. But you said follow the Val Tech goon and I did."

Greasepit stared apprehensively at Limburger's face. This was usually the point where he screamed that GreasePit had screwed up until the oily lug passed out from his landfill breath. But Limburger was smiling at him instead. "You did wonderfully, my boy. Simply wonderful. So she knows the Biker Mice." He turned to gaze thoughtfully out of the window. "And Val Tech knows her too."

Greasepit stayed silent. Wow, I's did a good job. Wonder if da Boss'll tell my Mom. She'd be so proud of me.

Di paced the confines of the metal box, turning with sleek-muscled grace and wishing for something to pounce on. There had been alarms sounding and muffled explosions when she awakened. But that had ended a long time before they pulled Donatello away.

She winced as she looked down at her golden-furred and clawed hands. How badly were they hurting him to find out what they wanted? She sighed as she tried to figure out what had gone so disastrously wrong. Val Tech had set a trap for them. And Val Tech had never had a presence in Chicago, which is why as strange as the city was, it was safe for her people.

But Val Tech had moved in and no one had sent out any warnings. That didn't make any sense. Were the others captured? Was that the reason they hadn't brought Donnie back, because they were trying to duplicate the Turtles mutation in the norms that were with them. Like Zack?

Stop it! This is exactly what they want. Run your brain around so when the time comes you won't be able to think. She took a deep breath, and accessed the situation. The cell had a ventilation grill and a thick door. The grille and the air shaft behind it were much too small for her, not to mention Donnie's shell. The door had a tiny window with a sliding door closed over it. No way out.

Di fought down the feeling of despair. I've managed the impossible before. This will be no different. I just have to wait for the perfect opportunity.

The cell door swung out into the hall. Two Val Tech guards flanked the door as another pair tossed the groaning Turtle inside. "Donnie." She knelt next to him, staring into his blurry hazel eyes, and stroking his sweaty head.

"The show of sympathy. You still haven't changed, have you, Diane?"

No, no, no, no. She turned and looked up at her own personal demon standing in the doorway. He was dressing better--an expensive business suit instead of the old scrubs. But the cold green eyes hadn't changed behind the glasses and neither had his hateful, loathing expression. "It's not a show," she said softly.

"All the more reason why you make a much better experiment than scientist," the blond-haired man sneered.

"Science is just the gathering of impartial facts. It's not an excuse to hurt people! Mother understood that."

"Don't you dare speak of her, you murdering bitch!" he screamed. "I did the world a favor, exposing the killer in you. Your little revolution will come to nothing and you will pay for killing my wife." He turned away from the cell and the door slammed shut.

Di turned away from the door and started to reach for Donatello. But the horror in his hazel eyes surrounded by purple fabric showed her he knew. Her hands fell helplessly to her lap as her green-gold eyes filled with tears. "Please don't tell," she whispered. "The others would never trust me if they knew. Please."

He stared up at her face for an eternity. I've lost his trust, his respect. No, I've lost something much more than that. She dropped her gaze from his face.

Donnie moved his arm and weakly grasped her hand. He squeezed it gently until she looked at him again. "I won't tell."

Limburger looked through the material Karbunkle brought him: books, videocassettes, photographs, sheets of typed information. "Give me the condensed version, will you, my dear Doctor."

"As near as I can tell, my cheddary creaminess, the ninja was medieval Japan's answer for hired villainy. They were thieves, assassins, and spies that worked for the highest bidder. And apparently, it is a profession still in practice today."

The disguised Plutarkian picked up one of the movie boxes and carefully studied the cover. "The highest bidder?"

"But this ninja is helping the Biker Mice. I seriously doubt you will be able to pay her to work for you." Karbunkle twisted his black-gloved hands together and cringed for the usual Limburger snarl.

Instead, he chuckled. "Everyone has a price, Karbunkle. And in this case, we have something she wants."

"We do?" The skin around Karbunkle's green goggles puckered.

"Yes, the cure for the human boy that escaped with the Biker Mouse's child."

"But we don't have that."

"But she doesn't know that." Limburger chuckled again as he reached for his phone. "Ms. Felony? Please place a call to the Last Chance Garage."

"They beat off the Hounds!" Arkson ducked as the paperweight from the desk hurtled toward his head. "We don't have enough personnel to deal with a crisis!" The strident red-haired woman slammed her hands against the desk.

"Limburger's goon army won't be much help either. Too many of them are recuperating from their mutations or still learning their new abilities." The blond man stood back up and straightened his suit jacket and glasses.

Val sighed wearily. "There is only one thing to do. Mutate a segment of the local populace." Her anger was gone like it had never been there.

"That is hardly an efficient strategy, creating that many more enemies for one or two Vexes."

"Not entirely correct. For as long as we have them imprisoned here, they are a civilian shield to operate behind." She walked away from the desk in a fluid, graceful motion. "I'll speak to Limburger immediately about implementing it. You arrange the cells."

"Yes, Ms. Val."

"And how is the work on the turtle creature coming?"

"We're analyzing the samples taken from him at this moment."

"Good. Do a thorough job, Arkson. Time is limited and we can't afford sloppy errors."

"Yes, Ms. Val." He bowed slightly as she strode out of the room.

Home, Manuelo took a deep breath as he shut the main door into the apartment. It wasn't much but his wife had transformed the dreary government-built housing into a tranquil escape from the world. He let his gaze travel around the living room. The bold reds, blues, greens, and white on the furniture and rug and the framed sunny pictures of Mexico warmed the beige walls.

"Manuelo?" A lilting female voice called from the kitchen. The voice that always made his heart beat faster every time he heard it.

"Hi honey, I'm home." He stripped off the uniform button-up shirt for the store and hung it carefully in the coat closet. He collapsed into the recliner, letting the rocking lull him.

His wife walked into their living room through the open archway to the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. His beautiful Serafina; the only comfort he had in those cold nights in the Pits was the memory of her. And everyday with her in the two years since his rescue was a miracle. Just looking at her, standing in the doorway, made him want to wrap his arms around her thickening waist and press his face into her ample bosom and stay there forever. If his feet didn't hurt so much, he would stand up and do it.

Serafina slung the dishtowel over her shoulder and it brushed against her short, curly brown hair. "Are you alright? Nina heard the police were at the store."

Manuelo sighed seeing the worry in her dark amber eyes. "I'm fine. They came to arrest the stupido scum who tried to rob me."

"Rob?" Her hand reached for her throat but instead she crossed the living room and embraced him tightly.

"I'm okay, Serafina. I'm fine." He hugged her trembling body tightly. "A customer helped me fight them off. I'm fine." He found himself exactly where he wanted to be but his love was too upset for him to enjoy it. "Shush, Serafina, I'm fine."

"If anything happened to you again."

"Nothing's gonna happen to me again."

"If no customer had been there? Please Manuelo, please hire an assistant. At least someone to watch your back. Think of Felipe."

He eased his wife to where she could sit on the arm of the recliner and rested his head against her body. "If it makes my chica happy, I'll start looking tomorrow."

"Thank you, Manny." Her hand gently combed through his wavy hair as she planted a kiss where his scalp was thinning.

"Anything to make you happy." He squeezed her around her waist.

"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" The five-year-old boy tore into the apartment with his two older cousins in tow. Serafina pulled away so they could both sit up straight but Manuelo kept his arm around her waist. "Look what Tia gave me for my birthday!" Felipe could barely hold the videocassette still enough for his father to read the cover. "Can we watch it tonight, please, please, please?" His son bounced the video in his hands harder in his excitement.

Manuelo finally grabbed Felipe's arm and paused the cover long enough to read The Lion King. "Sí, we can watch that tonight." His nieces, Manuela and Isabel, started shrieking as they jumped up and down. Felipe jumped but had another question. "The Biker Mice are coming to my birthday party, right Daddy?"

"They promised they would. I'll remind them tomorrow." Now Felipe joined his cousins in their cheering. Manuelo couldn't help grinning at them.

Serafina sighed heavily as she stood up. Undoubtedly, she was remembering what happened the last time his friends had visited. Manuelo squirmed a little. "I know, I know. No sports on the televisión. All roughhousing on the street. They promised."

She smiled gently and caressed his cheek. "I love them just for bringing you back from the Pits. But we just paid for all the furniture. Wash up for supper," she ordered the entire room before disappearing back into the kitchen.

The children scrambled away, disappearing down the hall so Serafina wouldn't take the movie away. Manuelo rested in the relative silence. A younger woman entered the apartment through the main door and threw herself on the couch. Her long braid of black hair fell over her shoulder like a thick rope. "Sorry Manny. They found it before I could wrap it." She lifted her feet--still in her white, hospital sneakers--and propped them on armrest as she laid down.

His sister had just gotten off her shift at the hospital. She wasn't ready to deal with the craftiness of a nine-year-old, an eight-year-old, and a five-year-old. She tried to smooth the wrinkles out of her rumpled scrubs. "It's all right, Nina. He'll have enough to open."

She chuckled. "You're over-indulgent."

"Serafina did the gift shopping this year."

"She doesn't want to spoil him rotten. What happened at the store?"

Manuelo sighed. "Nothing, Nina. Two men tried to rob me, but they got their tails whipped."

"I know that; I was on the desk when the police brought them into the emergency room."

"Don't you start, little sister. I'm going to hire more help."

"Supper!" Serafina yelled. Everyone in the apartment fell in at the table. Manuelo didn't contribute much to the conversation. He basked in the warmth that was his family while savoring his wife's good cooking. The children inhaled their food and dragged the adults back to the living room. He relaxed in his recliner and watched his family watch the movie. This is what he would never take for granted again. He didn't care how often Nina called him indulgent. His eyelids slowly drifted closed. Felipe and the girls sang along with the movie. Nina and Serafina got up off the couch, probably to go to the kitchen. Then a muffled boom echoed down the outside hall.

That sound jerked Manuelo upright. The children turned and looked up at him with wide-open eyes. He stood up and strode to the door. He touched the doorknob but never got a chance to open it.

The explosion shattered the wall. It shoved hunks of sheet rock against the opposite wall of the living room. Manuelo's head dented the wall as the door flattened against him. They slid down the wall together. The sheet rock rained around him.

"Manuelo!" Serafina's scream lingered in the dusty air.

"Grab them," a cold voice ordered.

"My husband! You killed my husband! You bastardos killed my Manny!"

The blackness sucked Manuelo down.

The blackness gradually let go. His body ached. The Pit Boss had given him lashes with the electric whip. Then he realized he was underneath the door of his apartment. He pushed away a hunk of sheet rock and wiggled out.

At first he couldn't concentrate on anything but the pain. When the Pit Boss hit you, the pain was over in a few minutes, just leaving you drained. Must move. Serafina, Felipe, they need me. He limped to the kitchen window, grabbing hold of the sill as he fought off a wave of dizziness. He glanced back to view his progress. The entire wall that separated his apartment from the hall was gone, broken and piled in the living room. Had any pieces hit the children? No, all the big hunks had landed on him and the door. The apartment across the hall had suffered a similar fate.

Manuelo turned back to the window. The street was filled with long, black vans. Men wearing black vests forced his neighbors into the back of those vans. He forced the window open and eased onto the fire escape.

"Is that all of them?" A red-haired teenager asked one of the goons. The store clerk in Manuelo screamed troublemaker to describe the boy, but he was too busy making his way down the fire escape without attracting attention to heed it.

He knew the other man, or rather, who the other man worked for. He was one of Limburger's goons. The Biker Mice had pointed them out in case they ever gave him trouble. Well, now this is trouble. Manuelo eased down onto the last balcony.

"Yeah, that's all of them. What do the Bosses want with 'em?"

The boy's laughter made Manuelo's skin prickle with goose pimples. "You really don't want to know. Let's go!" The boy and goon climbed into the front cab of the van.

Manuelo summoned up all his courage. They needed him: his wife, his son, his sister, and her daughters. With the sound of the vans' engines covering his noise, he rode the clanging ladder down and leaped to the top of the nearest van. Immediately, he regretted the decision. It hurt! He clung to the rails of the van, stretched flat on the roof, and concentrated on breathing as the van moved faster down the street.

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