April sat down gingerly on the cracked vinyl of the padded bench of a booth in the seedy restaurant. "So Harry, what do you have for me?"
Harry shoveled the greasy burger into his mouth. At one time, he had operated one of the best private investigation agencies in the city. But his business had failed because he had higher ethics than to snoop on divorce cases, so he turned to the streets. He managed to live better than your average bum and he always managed to keep track of what was going on in the underburg (what he called the darker aspects of New York). He liked the way April O Neil reported her stories, the way she dug into her stories, and the way she rode Sterns case. So he decided to help her when he could. "You asked me for what I knew and could dig up about this Ronin character?"
"That's right. What did you find? Because I know you found something."
Harry wiped his mouth with a greasy, crumpled napkin. "She doesn't work for the Shredder."
"So she says."
"No," Harry shook his head and swallowed some soft drink. "On the streets you can't hide your loyalties. Not all the time; not from everybody. She hates the Shredder as much as I've seen anyone allow themselves to hate."
"But what is she try to accomplish?" April insisted. "The Shredder isn't going to put himself on the front line."
"Of course not. But every blow taken by one of his ninjas goes back to him. Why do you think she wears the mask? My guess is that she's someone the Shredder knows, someone he has hurt in a way she probably doesn't even understand and this is the only way to express it."
"Who is she?"
Harry shoveled more greasy food into his mouth. But he did swallow before replying. "That she has managed to keep a secret. The Shredder doesn't know who she is, but is willin' to pay top dollar for just her identity."
April leaned forward, alarmed. "Is the Ronin in danger?"
Harry laughed, "The Ronin can take care of herself. And besides the streets
on her side. They hate the Shredder and his damn Dragons too much to help him.
Nah, the Shredder don't know who she is. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don't
know who she is. The cops don't know who she is. The streets don't know who she
is." He crumpled the napkin in his hand. "I will tell you this. The Ronin is a
child of the streets. She knows them and they know her, the true her--the one
behind the hood. By wearing that hood, she protects herself and the streets."
"This feels weird," Mike commented.
Leo glanced at him from the driver's seat of the Turtle Van. "Why? We're not doing anything different."
"Yes, we are. We are out hunting down the Ronin, something Raph insisted that we do, without Raph. Doesn't that strike anyone else as weird?"
Donnie leaned over the seat. "Well, if you had a chance to go on a date with Allie right now, would you?"
"Yeah, but who would rag me about it?"
"Raph," Leo answered.
"Then why can't I rag him about his date?" Mike finished, perplexed.
"Do you like living?" Donnie asked.
"Do you want to rag Raph?" Leo asked.
"Then drop the subject," Donnie advised.
"It still feels weird," Mike muttered.
Sammie glanced up from her bed in the corner of the dorm room. Allie was at her end of the desk, almost diagonally across from Sammie. She had been typing up a storm but now she sat frozen at her computer. Sammie pulled the earphones off her ears. "Allie, you okay?"
Allie didn't answer. Instead, she stood, pushed her chair under the desk, and
left the room, closing the door behind her. Sammie sighed, "I guess not."
Raph, panting, reached the rooftop. The last thing he wanted to do was make a bad impression, and being late for the first date was a good way to make one.
"Right on time," a voice called out. A second later, and Mona Lisa stepped into view. She had a lean body with feminine curves, but she wasn't taller than Raph. She had green skin with a large pale green spot covering her front torso. She had long brown hair, bewitching brown eyes, and a long, green tail. "Well, here I am in the flesh. I hope you're impressed."
"I am," Raph breathed, then could have killed himself. "I didn't mean it like that."
Mona waved it away. "Skip it. Once upon a time, I would have been offended, but coming from a fellow freak, I'll take it as a compliment."
Raph frowned, "I don't like the word freak."
"For lack of a better term for us. You're a mutant and I'm not going to get into what I am right now, so we're definitely not human."
"What are you crossed with? I'm not complaining, because I think you're one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen." Mona looked down, embarrassed. "But I am curious . . . ."
"A salamander," she said quickly, looking up. "I hope you got someplace to go in mind, because I sure don t want to spend our first date on my roof."
"I got a great date planned," Raph grinned when suddenly his Turtle Comm went off.
Mona stared as he pulled the shell off his belt. "I didn't know they made beepers that personalized."
"It's not a beeper; it's my Turtle Comm. My brother Donatello built it." And if he was calling, he was dead. If any of them were calling, they were dead. "What?"
Leo grimaced. He really hated doing this and Raph's tone wasn't making it any easier. "Purple Dragons are over-running the district north of Thirty-Fourth Street. We need back-up now."
"On my way." Raph sighed, and turned to Mona. "Looks like our date's over before it started. My brothers are in a jam and I have to bail them out. So . . . wait!" Mona watched him, puzzled. "Come with me!"
"Are you sure?"
"Can you fight?"
"Yeah," she answered slowly.
"Then I'm sure. Come on!" He grabbed her hand and pulled her to the fire
Normally, a band of Purple Dragons wouldn't be a problem for one of the Turtles--much less three. But for every Dragon they knocked down, five more appeared in his place.
Mike panted, his back against the building framing the alley, and holding four Dragons at arm's length. "Does this bring up any bad memories for anyone else?"
"Save your breath for fighting," Leo grunted.
"The Calvary's here!" Raph grabbed a Purple Dragon's jacket with his sai and tossed him over his head.
Donnie kicked another Dragon into a wall as another creature spun by him and sent Dragons flying with a swipe of her tail. "You must be Mona Lisa."
"That's me. Who are you?"
"Donatello. I'm Raphael's brother."
"I saw the family resemblance. So what's with the color coding; your parents had trouble telling you apart?"
Donnie grimaced, "Great, millions of people in this city, and Raph manages to find someone just like himself."
Raph tossed and punched Dragons out of his way, clearing a path to Leo. "You owe me big time."
"I always owe you big time." He took a deep breath, "But thanks for the help."
"Are you okay?"
"Just let me get my breath back. Where are these guys coming from?"
"Let's just make sure they don't go back."
A Dragon knocked Mona to the ground. "Back off," she growled.
The Dragon sneered into her face. "And what are you going to do about it?"
Raph yanked him up, letting his feet dangle above the ground. "I wouldn't worry too much about what she s going to do."
With Raph and Mona's arrival, Mike began to fight with renewed vigor. He managed to push back the Dragons and allow himself time to pull out his nunchucks. "All right, now we're talkin ! Who's first?"
The Dragons glanced at each other and crept forward. Mike's nunchucks flew and the line began to fall one by one.
Donnie reached the mouth of the alley and his brother quickly joined him as the Dragons retreated. "That wasn't so bad," Raph dusted his hands. "Why couldn't you guys handle it?"
Donnie gulped, "I think you spoke too soon, Raph." They followed his gaze.
"Understatement as usual," Mike groaned as they confronted the rows of Foot Clan ninjas.