"This could go a lot faster if we split up," Raph grumbled as they stopped on a rooftop.
"But with all of us here, we won't miss anything," Leo explained for what he felt was the thousandth time.
"There's nothing to miss."
Donnie ignored the bickering and pointed to the next rooftop they were facing. "That's the warehouse."
Mike blinked as he stared at the rooftop behind the warehouse. "Did you ask Lotus to come?"
"No. Why?" Leo turned to his brother.
He pointed to the slim silhouette. "Then that must be her!"
"Come on!" Raph leaped on to the warehouse roof and dashed to the other.
Leo expected the female ninja to vanish; she had ample opportunity to spot them as they chased after Raph. But instead, they found her perched on the rim of the rooftop, seeming amused by them. "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a pleasure to meet you."
Donnie frowned at the synthesized voice. "I wanted to thank you for saving my life."
"It was the least I could do." She lacked the usual ninja garb, like what Lotus wore, Leo observed. Instead of the loose, black pants and soft-soled boots, this ninja wore tight, short, black shorts over a black leotard and black, calf-high, combat boots. She did wear a loose, black top similar to the kind by Shredder's ninjas over the leotard top. Her hood was an exact replica of a Foot Clan ninja's, only missing the Shredder's bandanna of honor. But great detail and care had been taken with her equipment. The belt with bulging, built-in compartments hung tight around her waist. A pair of sais were also held in place against her stomach by this belt. A dagger poked out of her left combat boot, and Leo felt confident that there was a matching dagger in her right root. A high-quality katana was strapped to her back.
"Who are you?" Leo finally asked.
"I have no name."
"Who's your master?" Raph demanded.
"I have no master."
"A ronin," Donnie added.
The ninja gazed at him in what seemed to the Turtles a serious manner. "I thought that was a masterless samurai."
"Loose translation," Donnie shrugged.
The ninja nodded. "If you must call me by a name, call me Ronin."
"Who's side are you on?" Raph asked suspiciously.
"You have a one-track mind." The Ronin swung her feet off her perch and faced him. "What have I done to warrant so much suspicion?"
"You wear that mask," he answered.
"So do you."
"Ours don't hide our identities."
Ronin shrugged off the detail. "That's not what concerns you." She leaned into his face and Raph could see her blue eyes under the mesh eyepatches. "Humor me, please."
Raph held his ground. "All right, this bothers me. You're a ninja and most ninjas in this city work for the Shredder."
She leaned back and her synthesized voice held a thoughtful note. "The Shredder. You think I am associated with the Shredder." She pulled a wooden ball from her belt and before any of them could blink, the halves were spinning on the rooftop and she was sheathing her katana. "That's what I hope to do to the Shredder."
Mike looked up from the two halves of the ball to the Ronin's face. "That's not a healthy way to live."
"We must all have our goals. And who knows," she shrugged, "maybe I'll never fulfill mine."
"What do you think you are?" Leo demanded.
"I am what I am," Ronin answered.
"Great, she's a Popeye lover, too," Raph growled sarcastically.
The Ronin shook her head. "So short-sighted. You think that only creatures wearing a shell can rid this city of evil." She jumped on the rooftop rim without looking for it. "Good-bye," and she jumped backwards again.
The Turtles surged to the side and looked over. The Ronin landed safely on the neighboring rooftop that was five feet below the one they were on and took off running. "After her!" Raph cried and jumped down to the roof.
Leo sighed, "We better follow him."
The Ronin, for her part, obliged them by keeping in full sight. But by the time she had reached the tenth rooftop, she seemed to have grown weary of the chase and darted into an opening door on the roof.
Raph, who was closer to the Ronin than his brothers, saw this move and wrenched the door open wider once he reached it. But someone had been trying to open the door from the inside, and a trenched-coated figure fell into Raph's arms with a startled cry. Raph lost his balance and fell to the floor.
Leo--seeing a chance to have a little revenge on Raph for having decided on this crazy adventure--went past and down the stairs without pausing. So did Mike and Donnie.
The slim figure pushed herself off Raph. "The whole point of traveling by rooftops is so you don't get molested. And if you even think about taking my money, buddy, you'll wish you hadn't." She sat on the roof and pushed back her fedora.
Raph gaped at her green face shaped like his with brown bangs falling into her big, brown eyes. "You're green!" He finally blurted out.
"So are you!" she replied. "So we're either both real sick or both not quite human. Which is it, smart guy?"
"You're a mutant?"
"Yes and no." Raph sat up. "The name's Mona Lisa, but my friends call me Mona."
"How can you be a mutant and not be a mutant?"
"Do you have a name or do you answer to Yo, Turtle?" Mona quipped.
"I'm Raphael, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Raphael."
"Should I be impressed?"
"You can call me Raph."
"Good, then we have a date this Friday night, Raph. Or is that inconvenient?"
"Friday's fine. Nine o'clock?"
"Fine, I'll be waiting here, outside, so you won't have to snatch me out of my room. See ya." Mona ran to the fire escape and ran down it.
Raph lazily climbed to his feet but made no move to follow her. Leo, Mike, and Donnie reached him in this dream-like state. "Well, we lost her."
"You didn't lose her, Leo. You never met her."
Leo frowned, "The Ronin, Raph. The Ronin. Not some chick in a trench coat." Raph wasn't listening. "Let's go home."
"Friday night, nine o'clock," Raph muttered as he trailed behind his brothers.
Mike looked over his shoulder as they headed for the nearest sewer hole. "You say something?"
"Nothin'. I didn't say nothin'."
"I thought you said something about Friday night."
"I didn't say anything, Mikey!"
"Are you sure?"
"Would you just drop it!"
"Look, Chief, all I want to do is talk to this kid. What's so wrong with that? You know I'll keep his identity confidential." April gave him her most winning smile. "Come on, Chief."
Chief Sterns frowned as he sat behind his desk. "I gave you my answer, O'Neil. Now get out of my office."
"I'm willing to work with you on this one." She slapped her hands on the desk and peered into the man's face. "People are more willing to talk to me than you."
"We have our own informants," Sterns told her bluntly. "Besides, all you're doing is protecting your Turtle friends."
"They don't know who she is," April told him equally bluntly. Sterns looked up. "They don't know if she's a true vigilante or one of Shredder's henchmen acting like one to win their trust."
"That's the closest I have ever heard you come to acknowledging that you know
those Turtle freaks." Sterns glanced back down at his papers. "Go talk to the
kid." The door slammed shut by the time he glanced back up.
"Hi, Chris," April sat down next to the shaggy-haired boy who needed a haircut.
His grimy face brightened. "Hey! You're the lady who talks about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on TV!"
"That's me," April held out her hand, "April O'Neil."
He shook it gravely, "Chris Grant. Are you on some secret mission for them?"
"Yeah, they want to know about what happened to you."
"Why?" Chris paused, "The ninja that rescued me; she's part of the Foot Clan?" There was a note of incredibility in the boy's voice. Obviously, he didn't believe that.
"They don't know," April admitted. "That's why they need all the information I can find on her, so they can stop here if she turns bad."
"Okay, I'll tell you about it. I'm going to be here awhile anyway. The cops have to find my mom and that'll take forever. I was at home, watching TV, when this guy crashed through the front door. He had this weird expression on his face and I knew he was high. And then I saw his gun. So I tried to hide in one of the bedrooms in my apartment but the guy saw me and grabbed me. He pulled me over to the window and there were all these cop cars in the street. I was too scared to do anything. The guy backed us away from the window. And that's when the Ronin showed up."
"What happened?" April encouraged.
"Well, the guy holding me got real stiff and he let me go. I turned around because I wanted to see what he was going to do. But he wasn't going to do anything, she was standing behind him pressing a sword against his neck. Not hard enough to cut but he got the message."
"What did you do?"
"I got out of the way. You don't mess with a ninja!"
April smiled, "No, you don't. What happened next?"
"She eased away the sword and he whirled around like he was gonna shoot her. But she must've been expectin' that 'cause she kicked the gun out of his hand. Then she kicked him and he landed against the wall and that's where he stayed. Then she looked at me and, boy was I scared. But she said it was okay. She took the gun and hooked a throwing star to it and threw it at the ceiling. And it stayed! She told me to make sure the police got it. I asked her who she was and she told me that she was the Ronin and left out the front door. Then all the cops piled in and I had to explain everything to them. And then they brought me here, and I had to tell everybody again. This about my tenth time telling this story."
"Well, I think you were very brave."
Chris brightened, "Can I be on the news?"
"We'll have to see what your mom would say. And Chief Sterns, April muttered
under her breath.
Leo answered his beeping Turtle Comm. It was April. "I was expecting you to call sooner. You found out something?"
"You could say that. I just got finished talking to a kid that a druggie took hostage. He said that Donnie's ninja rescued him and that she's calling herself the Ronin. Does that mean anything to you?"
"It does and it doesn't," Leo answered. "It means masterless samurai."
"She's no samurai. Why is she calling herself that?"
"Because that what Donnie named her."
April sucked in her breath, "You talked to her? I thought Raph wanted her head?"
"Yeah, we talked to her. Donnie says it's a loose translation on the name. And as far as Raph wanting the Ronin's head, I can't say. He's not making much sense."
"Why, he's mad she got away?"
"No, more like he's in love."
April's green eyes bugged out. "Raph! In love! With who, the Ronin?"
"No, someone he bumped into while we were chasing the Ronin. He doesn't know if she's a mutant but she definitely not human."
"That doesn't leave many choice for her to be. Does she have a name?"
Leo braced himself, "Mona Lisa."
"Mona Lisa?" April demanded.
"Please, April, don't you start too. Donnie, Mike, and Zack are still rolling on the floor. Raph's insulted that they think a connection between us is funny."
"I have to go," she said quickly and shut off her Turtle Comm.
Leo sighed, at least she had the heart not to laugh in his face--even if she
Casey sighed as he refrained from throwing down the T.V. remote in disgust. He was a guest so he couldn't trash the Turtles stuff. Not that it was in perfect condition, but it was the principle.
Suddenly, the sewer cover clanged open. "Who's home?" a cheerful, female voice called out.
"I am, honey," Casey called out.
The response stopped the blonde girl in her tracks. "Who are you?" She asked, eyeing the quickest route to the training room.
"Relax, I'm Casey. Casey Jones. You must be Allie. Mikey talks a lot about you."
She sat down in the easy chair. "Right, you're the one who ran into a couple dozen Purple Dragons more than you could handle."
Casey grimaced, "Just wait until I'm back on my feet."
Allie smiled, "You sure aren't staying because of the great decor."
"The decor I can live with. It's the food that s making me sick."
"Why? Mike's a great cook."
"Of pizzas. And only pizzas. If I even smell another pizza, I'm going to be a lot sicker than I am now."
"They've never understood the concept Too much of a good thing. But where are they?"
Casey shrugged, "Out checking on a lead or something like that. It can't be too dangerous 'cause they took Zack with them. You know, for brother and sister, you two don't look a thing alike."
"He looks like Dad; I look like Mom. When did they leave?"
"About fifteen minutes ago. Hey, could you do me the biggest favor of my life?"
Allie watched him suspiciously. "What is it?"
He pulled out his wallet. "Here's a twenty. I need you to go buy the best steak you can for that. Mikey's gonna learn a new recipe."
She laughed and took the twenty, "I'll be back."
Zack entered the Lair from the sewers. The longer Casey stayed here the more he realized how much work the Turtles had put into their new home. More than one entrance was a good improvement. "Hey. I thought tonight was the big night."
The kid shrugged, "They started chasing some Purple Dragons and sent me back."
"Doesn't that make you mad?"
"Sure, but me dead will make Allie madder. And they fear Allie's wrath a lot more than they fear mine." Zack plopped down in a chair. "Speaking of my sister, she's supposed to be here already."
"She was," Casey replied. "She's running an errand for me."
Zack scowled, "Casey, did you hit my sister up for some food?"
"I did not hit her up for anything. I gave her a twenty and she said she'll go shopping for me."
"Hey, Kid," Casey leveled a finger at Zack. "I have never claimed to be Italian. I don't know where the Turtles get it from and I don't want to know. But if I don't get something inside of me besides pizza, you don't wanna face the consequences."
Allie climbed down the ladder. "Don't get all bent out of shape, little bro, I volunteered." Casey leaned forward expectantly. She pulled the plastic-wrapped package out of the plastic bag. "Two New York strips. I even managed to find steak sauce."
Casey took it gently in his hands. "Now, I know what Mikey sees in you. You're an angel."
"You haven't seen her on a bad day," Zack chortled. Allie glared at him. He held out his hand for the meat. "I'll cook it. If ya tell Mikey it's a New York strip, he'll probably get the wrong idea."
Casey handed it over, "You know how to cook?"
"Zack and I are capable of living on our own," Allie answered. "Have been for some time. Only the social workers never believed us."
"Good thing too, or you might've never ended up here." Mike wrapped his arms around Allie from behind and planted a kiss on her cheek. "You've been hiding out on me."
"I have not," Allie corrected. "If I have been hiding out, I wouldn't have dozens of witnesses that have seen me in class."
Raph rubbed his eyes and groaned. "I thought you were gone for good."
She smiled, "One good thing about a higher education is that it teaches you to tolerate narrow-minded people and their bigoted sentiments."
The Turtle blinked and turned away. "Hey, Donnie, what did you do with that dictionary?"
Mike shook his head and pulled Allie to her feet. "I wanna talk to you, in private."
He led her to an alcove near the kitchen. "What's wrong? Or is anything wrong?" Allie asked.
Mike shuffled his feet as he looked at them. He only did that when he was nervous. "You got a week-long vacation coming up. Keno and Dan were talking about it."
"Are you worried I'm going to run off without telling you?" Allie smiled as she tilted up his chin.
"I wanna know if you wanna go up to the farm for the week. Just the two of us."
Her mouth dropped open. "Mike, I can't. I can't leave the city for that long. I'm sorry."
He tried hard to hide his disappointment, or at least he thought he was trying hard. "That's okay. April and Splinter probably would have put their foots down on it anyway." He walked back into the sewers, avoiding the main room of the Lair.
Allie knew where he was heading; to his secret place so he could sort through his feelings. She tried to follow him but for the first time in her life, her feet disobeyed her by remaining rooted to the ground.
Zack twisted around the alcove and punched his sister in the arm. And it wasn't a friendly, hello-there-buddy punch either. If the stinging in her arm had left any doubts, the expression on Zack's face would have cleared them. "How could you be so cruel?" He kept his voice low so the people and the mutants in the main room wouldn't hear. "Mikey's been planning that for weeks!"
"I can't go, Zack," Allie replied lamely.
"I don't care about that. The least you could have done was let him down easier. You're his girlfriend, for crying out loud!"
She sighed and trudged away in the direction Mike had taken. Zack nodded his
approval and turned his attention back to Casey's steaks.
Allie crept along the rough, wooden bridge that Mike had built through the sewers. She pressed as close as she dared to the wall without touching it as she squeezed past a waterfall from an overhanging pipe to be at the entrance of another pipe. "Mike, can I come in?"
"Why not?" he called back. "You're the only one who knows where this is." She crept into the pipe that enlarged into a spartanly furnished room. There was a keyboard in one corner and a table heaped with music sheets standing next to it. Mike sat on the couch and stared at the keyboard, brooding. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Mike." She held his hands as she knelt in front of him. "That was the last thing I wanted to do." He looked down at her. "But I can't leave the city right now."
"What's so important that you can't spend time with your boyfriend?"
"I never said I couldn't spend time with you. I just can't leave the city right now."
"What's so important that you can't leave the city with your boyfriend?"
Allie took a deep breath. "I've started something, Mike. And if I leave now, a lot of people will be disappointed."
"Can't you explain it to them?"
"These aren't the type of people you can explain things to."
Mike held her chin and made her look into his eyes. "You're not involved in something illegal, are you?"
"Of course not. You know I've given most of that up."
"Good," he bent down and kissed her. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Nothing will. I promise."