Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, Michaelangelo, Splinter, and the Foot are all property of Mirage. Lee Kilgore and Sam Levinson are mine, the poor unfortunate bastards. Originally written in 1999 - rewritten in 2001, on account that it sucked. Rated PG-13 for swearing and violence, both of which can largely be attributed to Raphael, the fiend.
It was a dark and stormy night.
Far above the city skyline thick banks of clouds billowed and crowded into place, pregnant with rain, flashing purple and copper with lightning as the thunderhead beat its way up the eastern coast. Against the luminous sky the spires of the city looked stark and black and shapeless, like a half finished block puzzle, speckled with thousands of pinpoint yellow lights. A ruddy orange glow burned up from unseen streets, an ugly smudge of colour running out along the horizon. To the west the sky was still clear and dark and frosted with stars. The storm was creeping in from the opposite heading, lazily rolling its way over the East River and the dark span crouching across the water that was the Queensboro Bridge. Roosevelt Island was only a thin sliver of land visible through the haze, outlined in a dim violet nimbus. In that direction, very little could be seen through a pallor of blue fog, through faraway rain bursts falling upon faraway places in grey sheets. The city no longer had the luxury of measuring the time before it got very wet in hours; already the air was unbearably hot and dry and oppressively still, and a heavy curtain of unbroken humidity seemed to hang just above the distant skyscrapers. It smelt sour, of rain and ozone and saltwater. The atmosphere trembled with lightning and anticipation. It tasted of anxiety.
Huddled beside an old payphone at the edge of the pier, standing just inside the shadow cast down by the marina light, a hunchbacked figure in a bulky canvas trenchcoat and weatherworn fedora stopped digging frantically through his pockets long enough to sniff at the air. The lines of his body radiated agitation as he turned his face to the raging sky, his collar flipped up high over his throat. A flicker of lightning rippled through the clouds, painting him in illumination, and at that he hastily bent his head down again and hoped like hell that nobody was around to spot him in that brief, treacherous flash of light. A short blast of wind spat wet litter and debris against his legs and the wall behind him and chased it into the phone booth. When a small powerboat docked nearby rocked gently on the waves in the harbour and lightly rattled its moorings, the slight sound was enough to tie the figure into a tight knot of alert apprehension as some fairly serious survival instincts kicked in with a vengeance. Half bent and eyes warily scanning the darkened pier, he relaxed only when he had recognized the source of the noise and then resumed pawing through his coat with a soft snort of disgust.
It was odd, he reflected through the overpowering red haze of his anger, that anxiety even had a taste to it at all. It sounded so stupid. Christ. Years ago he would have scoffed at the very idea and thrown out on its proverbial ass, rebuking it as being nothing more than a dopey bit of melodramatic prose conjured up by one of those fruity poetic types who liked to primp about with words and included "mauve" in their everyday vocabulary. Years ago, air was just air to him and nothing more, and it smelt like… well, sweat and smog and hotdogs and old burnt toast crumbs under the elements of the stove and rubber on asphalt. They were good, solid sensible smells, unromantic and straightforward, everyday and ordinary. Of course, that was back in a time when fear itself had been little more than an unpleasant sensation you felt in the core of your gut, like a hard kick to an empty stomach, when your unbelievable asshole of a brother disappeared for three whole awful days after a great big fight before showing up again out of the blue with little more than a wink and a grin and not a scratch on him. Back then that was all he'd ever known fear to be. Like an injury, it flared fast and then faded far away from notice until you'd forgotten all about it. It was an impression. It was a feeling, like joy or anger. Despite all of the arguments he'd heard to the contrary, he knew a hell of a lot about feelings, a lot more than anyone seemed to like to credit him for. When it came to anger, for example, he was nothing less than a goddamn Jedi. He'd thought that if he could handle anger, then he could handle fear. No worries there.
Years had fermented into experience, however, and his senses had long since sharpened, matured. With that had come the unpleasant realization that something as intangible as anxiety could suddenly turn substantial, become a tension in the air as real as rain or fog, as shameless as a blush. It was a smell, a prickling against your skin like static electricity. It was a silent traitor that, for all of his strength and reckless courage he could do absolutely nothing about. It was still a feeling all right, but it was a feeling with teeth in it. It was as hard to damp down as rage, as difficult to mask as despair, as tough to hide as a scar. Even when you'd hidden all outward signs it could still linger like smoke over a fire. Fear had its own agenda, and it could expose you as clearly as a big red flag. You could strangle down your anger, bury it down far enough that nobody could see it if they weren't really looking, but there wasn't much you could do about the stink of real, raw panic. It was just too overpowering.
He'd damn well come to know just what fear smelled like, and he damn well knew that he damn well hated it, just like all the other things in his life he had no damn control over whatsoever, like he was some accident that just kept careening without end. Like that everloving lousy weather thundering in from the east. It was a nice, climatic finishing touch for what was proving the mother of all shitty days, and there was nothing he could do about it other than sit tight and ride it all out. Just another example of how his life was one continuous downward spiral in the void of anarchy, leaving him pinwheeling helplessly over utter madness as if the comfortable centre of his universe had told him to look one way and then maliciously jumped out from under him in the other direction.
He scowled up at the sky, eyes bright and black and furious beneath the crooked brim of his hat, framed within the high collar of his overcoat.
If there was a God, he mused sourly, He definitely had a weakness for these kinds of cheap paperback theatrics. On a dark pier over a dark river bleeding out of a dark city stands a dark figure with dark business in the dead dark of night with the sky in a rage above him - oh yeah, only an Almighty film noir fan could have come up with this sort of campy Hollywood bullshit scene and then dumped him right square in the middle of it. Either that, or something about his person just seemed to invite this kind of abuse. A clap of thunder echoed down from the sky as if voicing its agreement with that unspoken thought, and on that cue the sky promptly opened up and unleashed a downpour. The black wall of rain swept across the river, churning it into a broil, smashed its way along the pier hard enough to scour the wood clean and finally blasted him back against the marina with its concussive force. The wind, previously a sullen murmur through empty sails, suddenly whipped up into a joyous frenzy and slashed at him with rain that felt cold and sharp like icicles. Even hunched over as he was in the lee of the wall it was only a matter of seconds before his coat was plastered to his body like a second skin, his fedora sopping straight through and sculpted to his skull with rain. He could feel the water running off his back in little rivers, channeled through the folds of his coat. It stung sharply where it met a hot, open gash running laterally over the knuckles of his left hand, washing away in bloody pink streamlets through the valleys between his fingers. He sputtered angrily through the soaking and blinked rapidly to clear it out of his eyes, squinting against the gale with his injured hand pressed against his side.
Oh yeah, his life was one big cosmic case of suckass, all right. Glaring out his defiance at the pier from over his shoulder, he turned his back to the storm and leaned up against the phone booth. He redoubled his efforts and slapped at his pockets in vain, mentally damning the wind and rain and cops and faceless men with knives and blood and death and the miserable murdering city in general, and whatever unbelievable bastard had swiped his last emergency quarter.
Across the river lightning streaked over the clouds and over the water, which was a glassy mirror of the sky. The light had turned weird, all wrong, he fretted. It was dusky and pale and the colour of a plum. Everything was lit with a kind of intense, icy brilliance; the shapes of things around him were printed so sharply against the sky that they almost seemed too fragile to be real, as if one good clap of thunder could shatter the scenery. It was surreal, tenuous, like something out of an old dream he was far too awake to remember. The whole thing put him on edge; made him uncharacteristically jittery for reasons he couldn't quite put his finger on because they were rooted too far back in the the teeming primeval jungle of instincts to be touched upon. It was as if some sort of visceral sixth sense had bypassed his brain and wired itself directly into his legs. It was shrilly screaming for him to run, to get to safety underground, and the limbs wanted to obey. Badly.
What nature didn't take into account, however, was that his wasn't the sort of personality that was about to be bullied around by anyone. He didn't take authority from that unseen God intent on making his life ten kinds of holy hell, not from fate or destiny and certainly not from his brother, and he sure as hell didn't plan on putting up with that kind of crap from his own instincts as well. Screw that noise. Raw animal fear ran head on into a solid wave of obstinate anger flooding down from some central core of his consciousness and was thoroughly tromped down. Grounded in place by pure bull headed irritation, he ignored the rain pounding against his back and his stinging eyes and the dead cold creeping through his limbs and that miserable little voice yelping away somewhere in the back of his head about the danger of lingering out in the open, and refused to run.
He was momentarily satisfied when another small victory was won and his fingers finally closed upon the quarter trapped deep within the inside pocket of his coat. With thunderclaps crunching in swift succession above the marina and lightning grappling the sky, he quickly dodged into the phone booth, awkwardly closed the door around him as best he could, plugged the coin into the slot and punched in some numbers. Heat from his breath and body, further warmed by the rain trapped inside his coat, promptly fogged up the glass and he swiped his sleeve across it until he could see out across the pier and the street running to the west. Skyscrapers outside turned into hazy black shapes, tall and indistinct. Rain streaked across the glass and dripped between cracks. His feet squelched through wet newspapers and wrappers and sodden cigarette butts and he absently kicked aside a beer can that had been blown inside the booth as well, even as he listened to the sound of the number dialling.
Half a minute later he hung up the phone with a soft obscenity, retrieved his quarter after it rattled down through the machine, and tried the call again. He caught the receiver between his shoulder and ear and leaned heavily against the wall, idly tracing words into the steam on the glass with one finger. A car appeared along the street and he automatically turned away as its headlights swept over the marina. There was a muzzy flash of light that cast his shadow sharply against the wall and then it was gone, racing off into the city again, its tires kicking up a great spray of rain in its wake. He exhaled slowly and relaxed his frame only when the sound from its engine had faded in the background noise of the streets. Thunder rumbled agreeably overhead.
Just a car. An ordinary car cruising about at unusual hours. No lights, no sirens, nothing he needed to waste any real worry on.
And in his mind he saw it again, that glimmer of light on the edge of a knife, thin as a hair and sharp as glass, relived those few precious seconds where time had crawled into a halt because too much was trying to happen too fast...
He'd gotten to the "R" in "here" when the phone was slammed back into the cradle again, so hard that it bounced up on impact. With a muted snarl he tore the quarter free, jammed it back through the slot and angrily stabbed at the numbers for a third time with a lot more force than was really necessary. One hand closed into a tight fist and he pressed the bloody knuckles against the wall of the booth next to his head hard enough that it buckled outwards slightly. The cold glass felt soothing against the inflamed injury. The other hand opened and closed spasmodically over the receiver, in time to his heavy breathing. His heel closed down on the beer can solidly enough to flatten and crush it in half. Rain slashed over the booth and left behind long trails of moisture that slowly bled down the glass. A bolt of lightning tore through the sky, and in that brilliant flare of hot white light he saw the pier and its long line of boats as clearly as if it were day, even through the curtain of rain and the haze of tiny splashes it made as it hit the ground. Thunder immediately followed, a blast of noise that ripped across the city and made him jump despite himself. In the space of a second he suddenly saw just how plainly, painfully exposed he really was, left out in the open, caught above ground with no place to hide. He froze, rooted in place. Fear clamped his throat shut and parched the roof of his mouth in an instant, even as he realized with a kind of amazed horror that his free hand was edging through the folds of his coat towards the hidden handle of a weapon thrust into the back of his belt, as if by its own violition-
When the phone beeped uselessly in his ear again he didn't bother to waste his energy beating the crap out of it, as he might have been inclined to in another place and time. Instead he made a stab for the quarter, swore fiercely, whirled and kicked outwards in one complete motion. Before the glass doors could rebound back into his face he was already running swiftly across the lot, his head bowed, his wet coat flapping against his legs and ankles. He took care to dodge the circles of illumination cast down on the wet asphalt from the lights along the docks, leapt lithely over the guardrail at the edge of the lot, and slid down the bank on the other side in a long furrow of mud and grass and loose garbage. He paused only when he'd reached the bottom without incident, and then stared up uneasily at the dark trail he'd left in the wet grass, breathing hard and fast and high.
With his senses stretched painfully keen he scanned his surroundings, his eyes flitting over the ditch even as the foggy sound of distant traffic blared up from over the top of the bank. The air smelt of wet grass and fish and rotting algae and nothing else. Ahead and behind him stretched the river's edge, littered with rocks and rubbish and bordered by a low cement wall where the bank gently sloped down to the water. Piers thrust out across the river like fingers; without turning around he could sense that one stood not thirty feet behind him. The hollow sound of the waves echoing against the planks and the vague impression that a dark concavity hovered at the very corner of his vision betrayed its presence to him. Far above the sky continued to rage, a pendulous black cloud ceiling that flickered and flared like a half dead fire. Save for the rain and the boats tossed on the waves and the wind through the grass everything was still as death, quivering beneath the ferocity of the storm.
As swiftly as it had struck the panic drained out of him in a flood of emotion, and irrational fear deflated back into anger and embarrassment. He crossly kicked at the ground, wiped his clammy palms against his coat before ramming his hands into the pockets. Moodily, he glared out over the river, shifting restlessly on his feet with the fedora riding low over his eyes. Even here, sheltered by the high bank, he still felt terribly exposed. In part, it had to do with something else that he passionately hated and that he'd he'd only just remembered about, something he hated more than almost everything else that pissed him off in a world crammed full of petty irritations. It was that sick and uncertain feeling that took the breath right out of you like a sucker punch when you suddenly realised that you were no longer playing the comfortable role of the invisible hunter in a very dangerous game for survival, but had stepped blindly into that of the hunted without even knowing when you'd crossed the line between the two. It was an unpleasant slap of reality in his face and it stung deeply. Once again a cold point was driven home, straight to the very core of his being, one he'd been doing his level best to ignore ever time he made his way up from the underground and into the streets: that his life was, above all, a life of hiding, and destined to be little more than that. To live was to live in secrecy, always haunted by the fear of discovery. He'd tried to challenge that unspoken rule and had played it cagey so far, always spending his time above the sewers moving swiftly, silently, never allowing himself to stop for long because a moving target is harder to hit. Unfortunately, that also made it that much easier to spot in the first place...
Considering everything, something had been bound to go horribly wrong sooner or later. Something like this. He couldn't keep running forever without attracting some sort of attention. Flight could only be followed by a chase. And disaster seemed to follow him like his own personal vulture, he reflected in a foul humour, preying on all of his mistakes.
There is a word to describe a hunted man.
Self consciously folding the collar of his jacket a little higher over his face and clapping one hand down over his hat to pin it in place before the wind could carry it off, he spun on his heel and stepped briskly towards the pier behind him, his feet slipping slightly in the thin mud. Sitting around and worrying over his problems wasn't going to do a damn thing for him other than wind up his nerves like a spring. What had happened had happened, he reasoned philosophically, and there was nothing going that could change the past, no matter how much he pissed and moaned about it. The best thing he could do now was try to minimize the damage as best he could. Getting out of sight sharp instead of standing in the middle of nowhere like a damn fool seemed a good enough place to start as any. He couldn't just hang around at the edge of the pier like the shadowy hero of a bad B-flick. His favourite parks were miles across the island in either direction, a long and dangerous hike to attempt in one go above ground even in the dead of night. And going home was, at this point, absolutely out of the question. This was his problem, and his alone, and he wasn't going to damn well dump it onto anyone else's lap but his own. His brothers were bound to worry about him, but worry wouldn't kill them. And the alternative was much, much worse.
In the end he wound up crawling up beneath the pier, squeezing in just where it met the ground, sheltered beneath the wooden planks and between two heavy concrete supports. The top layer of soil was still fairly dry there, although he could feel moisture and coldness from the rain already seeping into the harder earth below it. The air was stuffy and musty and smelt quite strongly of wet cement and decay, but at least it was sheltered from both the rain and the rest of the world. Thunder became a muted rumble from some far distance, lightning little more than a soft play of light on the water below him. He rolled himself tightly into his coat, pillowed his head on his folded hat and resolutely turned his back to the river, a hundred worse case scenarios playing across his mind, each more gruesome than the last.
It took him a long time to fall asleep.
Lightning flashed through the square of sky visible overhead. The afterglow shone down through the sewer grate and painted bars of indigo light and shadow on the filthy bricks underfoot.
"There it is! Okay, one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three-one thousand…"
The sound of rainwater gurgling through unseen storm drains echoed loudly through the tunnel, a ceaseless hollow chuckle that sang softly at their ears. It ran underfoot in a long stream, snaking around loose rocks and fallen bricks and seeping though the larger piles of rubbish. Buoyant bits of debris - sticks and paper and other organic matter that was best left to the imagination - was carried along with it, bobbing wetly in the flow. Darkness closed in from the honeycomb of subterranean tunnels radiating out to the east and west, soft and damp and yielding. Beneath the dim pylon of light cast down from the streets above, the stonework glistened with moisture and clammy trails of rot. The stink of decomposition and corrosion lingered maliciously in the muggy air.
"… Four one-thousand, five one-thousand- hey! I think it's moving away-"
A sulky peal of thunder rolled down from the distant clouds.
"There, you hear that? It's gotta be at least five miles out by now. Now I just hope the humidity dies down too. It's not doin' the zesty Cajun crunch of my chicken any good, here."
Donatello pushed himself away from the wall he had been leaning gingerly against, turned his face away from the sky showing through the grille and gave his brother standing across the tunnel an amused look. "Hate to break it to you, buddy, but the forecast is for rain all through the weekend, with any luck tapering off Thursday. Looks like we're going to be getting all kinds of wet for a little while longer."
He paused, suddenly intensely curious about the barbeque smells that were wafting up and out of the plastic bag in the other turtle's hands. "And just where did you manage to get your hands on fried chicken, anyway?"
Michaelangelo grinned boyishly at him and swaggered off down the sewer, his interest in studying the storm above suddenly waning. "Dumpster behind that KFC up on the Ninety-Sixth. Man, you wouldn't believe the sort of stuff was just lying around in it, waiting to be snagged. There must have been ten pounds worth of coleslaw alone sitting in there."
He held up something large that had the oily sheen of plastic and shook it noisily. "And check it out, half a litre of really flat Coke! Am I lucky or what?"
"You didn't grab it too, I hope," his brother said warily, carelessly sloshing his feet through the shallow water. "The coleslaw, I mean."
Michaelangelo made a face. "Ugh, no way. Wasn't even tempted to. When that much shredded green stuff gets jammed into a big garbage bag and sealed up with duct tape, I don't care how hungry I am, I ain't touching it. The mayonnaise must have gone really bad and killed a family of four."
Despite himself, Donatello grinned widely into the darkness. Only someone as frivolous as his brother could get away with tossing off a casually awful joke such as that one. He chuckled good-humouredly and rolled his bo staff swiftly through his fingers, taking care not to dislodge it from his shoulder. Despite the rain and the storm, despite the thorough soaking they had gotten during their time rooting above ground, despite the rather repugnant nature of the household duty they'd found themselves delegated to do, he found that his heart was unexpectedly light that evening, buoyed on an unexpected bout of good cheer. He suspected that his positive mood could largely be attributed to the fact that he'd just spent most of the time outdoors in the open without fear of discovery, a very unaccustomed luxury. The thunderstorm had chased most of Manhattan's population indoors for the night, save for the city's unfortunate homeless and a few determined street kids, but they were all easily avoided by a pair of brothers well trained in the art of stealth. He was rather surprised at how a simple outing now and then could raise his spirits, even if it were only to scavenge up a few necessities. He was beginning to understand why Raphael willing volunteered himself for the chore so often. It had been a profound joy to look up for once and see nothing but a broad expanse of sky, even one crowded with clouds, rather than a dreary ceiling of stained bricks. Even the city's darkest, dirtiest alleys and back streets seemed spacious sanctuaries in comparison to the cramped confines of the sewers. It amazed him how frequently the humans seemed to take all of it for granted.
The fact that he'd spent the time in Michaelangelo's company probably also helped. Of all of his brothers, he often felt that Mike was the easiest to get along with. Leonardo's strict eye and serious demeanour demanded a great deal of commitment, and Raphael's quick temper and moody disposition demanded a great deal of patience, but dealing with Michealangelo demanded nothing from him, save for maybe a very broad sense of humour. He was light-hearted and open, as stern as a kitten and just as energetic, impossible to anger and quick to laugh. Don could get seriously annoyed with his brother no more easily than he could punch his fist through an electric fan.
"We should nominate you for dumpster duty more often," he remarked aloud. "I don't think even Raph ever managed to land chicken for dinner."
"That's because I'm special," his brother said easily, flipping the Coke bottle end over end before deftly snagging its stem again between the crook of his fingers.
"Oh you certainly are," Donatello agreed, sniggering. "And hey, hold on here, I don't seem to recall anyone asking just how I made out tonight."
"Okey doke, I'll bite - just what did you get?"
"Coaxial cable," Donatello crowed triumphantly, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder towards the thick roll of white cable looped over his bo and lying against his back. "Fifty feet of it. Looks like someone busted the adapter and decided to just chuck the whole thing. I've got a couple good adapters kicking around at home, though, so it'll be easy enough to fix."
"Coaxial... that's what, Greek?"
Donatello reached out with one arm and gave the other turtle a friendly slug to the shoulder. "It's electric cable, doofus. For the television."
"Can't eat that," Michaelangelo noted innocently.
"No," Donatello admitted. "But I can jury-rig the cable back up with it, and you have been getting tired of watching antenna television, right?"
His brother rolled his eyes to the heavens. "Oh my god, yeah," he breathed fervently. "All three channels of it. And hey, wow, do you think you can get it up and running sometime tonight?"
"Yeah, probably. It's a pretty easy job. Why?"
"Really? Awright! Highlander's supposed to be on right after Letterman!"
"The one that didn't suck."
Donatello almost laughed at that. "KFC and Highlander all at once? This is getting pretty festive."
"Lucky night," Michaelangelo agreed lazily.
They slogged through the sewers for a while in companionable silence, Donatello carrying his bo at a jaunty angle over his shoulder and Michaelangelo swinging the plastic bag of food at his side in long, easy arcs. In either direction the only sound to be heard was the gentle swish of their feet through the stream of debris, and the soft murmur of water draining down from the street. Despite the fact that New York's underground was little more than a labyrinth of workman passageways and barren black tunnels that served as a sluice for groundwater and waste, they picked their way through the maze with comfortable familiarity. Years spent living in near darkness below ground had sharpened their inborn sense of direction considerably, and old habit had mapped out the city's sewer lines straight onto an instinctual level. Anything from the patterns of electrical cables overhead to the colouration of bricks could be followed as easily as landmarks, as familiar to them as lines of highways and motels were to truckers. Miles of subterranean ducts, as dark as pitch and damp as decay, had long lost their terror.
In single file, splashing quietly, the pair rounded the corner of a T-junction, and Donatello, bringing up the rear, found himself suddenly roused from his peaceful thoughts when he nearly smashed into his brother's back. He managed to veer away sharply instead and slid to a halt. He glanced back and offered Michaelangelo a confused look, his hand over his bo. "Uh, what gives, Mikey?"
"What's that sound?" his brother countered instead, an alert, interested expression coming over his broad face. He was standing tall and at attention, his head craned just to the side, his eyes ingeniously wide.
Donatello blinked and tuned in his hearing to catch up the faint scrap of noise the other turtle was evidently picking up on. Sure enough, a weak ring was boomeranging feebly down the sewer, amplified by the smooth cylindrical walls. He frowned his annoyance. "Aw, geez. Sounds like the phone. Somebody's probably trying to sell us weather stripping again. Or storm windows."
"I wonder why Leo's not getting it," Michaelangelo said thoughtfully, a hungry expression spreading slowly taking over the curious one.
His brother eyed him warily and shrugged. "Probably because last week I asked everyone not to touch the- get back here!"
He made a mad stab for the other turtle's arm and his hand closed over empty air; Michaelangelo was already charging off eagerly down the rest of the tunnel, plastic bag flapping frantically behind him like a flag. His battle cry of, "I got it!" was already a distant echo on the verge of being within earshot, and fading fast. Donatello muttered something rude underneath his breath and dashed off after his brother's retreating silhouette.
"Let the machine get it!" he yelped as he burst into the living room like a wild-eyed dervish, just in time to spot his brother reluctantly hanging up the pay phone's receiver.
"Whoever it was already hung up anyway," he said mildly, stepping out of the booth. He made a wry face. "I hate it when they do that only after a couple rings. It's so inconsiderate. I mean, what if I had been in the bathroom, or something?"
He caught finally caught sight of Donatello's poleaxed expression and blinked once slowly. "Dude, what's with you?"
"You're taking years off my life, you know that?" his brother complained sourly, sagging over and leaning up against the nearest bookshelf to disguise his relief.
Michaelangelo's expression was nothing short of baffled. "Come again?"
Leonardo materialized silently from his room, his eyes round. "What on earth-"
"No worries," Donatello assured him with a ragged sigh, running one hand lightly over the top of his head. "Just a minor phone-related emergency. It's all good."
He fretfully eyed the booth standing placidly across the room. "Has it been ringing like that all evening?"
Leonardo shrugged. "That's twice in the past ten minutes. An hour ago it rang like crazy, maybe half a dozen times total. I was half tempted to just take it off the hook, but then I remembered what you said."
Michaelangelo turned to face his second brother and hefted the plastic bag and Coke bottle proudly. Miraculously, both had survived his sprint back to the lair intact, and with remarkable little wear and tear. "Hey, Leo, check it out - I feel like chicken tonight! Heh heh - it's KFC," he explained kindly, upon seeing the other's bemused expression.
"Oh yeah," Leonardo said blankly. His attention focused back on Donatello like light through a lens, and he rotated one arm gingerly, the other hand closed lightly over the big muscles of his shoulder. "What was that about an emergency?"
"Yeah, explain to me again why you're freaking, again?" Michaelangelo added. He spring-vaulted lithely over the back on the couch with one arm and bounced down into the cushions; then propped up the bag on his chest, pulled out a throwaway box, flipped open the lid and gave it an experimental sniff. "Mmm. Spicy."
"Don't you remember what I said about the phone?" Donatello asked him accusingly.
"I think it's pretty obvious that I don't," his brother replied in a wounded tone, still inhaling deeply. Then he snorted and coughed and rubbed the back of one hand over his eyes. "Wow. That's ten kinds of spices, all right."
"I do," Leonardo said.
"Then at least I know I didn't hallucinate the whole thing," Donatello said sullenly and straightened, pushing himself off the bookshelf. "Look, we're going to try only letting that answering machine April gave us pick up all calls for a while. We've been getting a lot of calls lately concerning things like carpet cleaning and surveys and phone services, and it's making me nervous. We shouldn't be getting them - this is, or was, anyway, just a city payphone, and I can't figure out for the life of me how they got the number. I don't like the idea that it's circulating out there on some company's list. The message I've got playing on the machine now should discourage that sort of thing."
"What's it say?" Michaelangelo asked, curious.
Donatello had to grin at that, despite his irritation. The situation with the phone and the simple solution he'd come up with to solve the problem was one he was rather foolishly proud of; he liked having the opportunity to explain it again. "I recorded that, 'This number is no longer in service' one you get for old, dead phone numbers. Hopefully, people will stop trying to call and sell us stuff if they hear it, and take this number off their records. Plus, it shouldn't get anyone official curious enough to try and track down the phone itself."
"Good idea," his brother remarked lazily. "What about April and Casey?"
"I'm glad you approve," Donatello said dryly. "And don't worry about them - I warned them in advance. The machine still works, after all. All you have to do is wait for a beep a few seconds after the message finishes, and it will record your call. If April or Casey need to talk to us right away, they'll leave a message and we'll phone them back ourselves. So, from now on that's what we're gonna do, or at least for a trial period. Just… don't pick up the phone if it rings, okay?"
"What if it's an emergency call, like a hospital or fire department or, uh, the poison control centre or something?"
"The machine's got call display, and I've chalked up emgency numbers on the wall beside the booth, so do a double-check first."
"Gee, you've really thought this all out, haven't you? What if it's a radio DJ and we've all won dune buggies?"
Donatello gave him an exasperated look. "Just don't touch it!"
"I'm not the one you have to worry about," Leonardo suddenly said absently, and gave his brother sprawled out on the couch like an accident victim a pointed, amused look.
"Oh, leave me alone," Michaelangelo said amiably, swatting at the air with one hand. "I was just kidding. Hey, you wanna fridge my chicken here, Donnie? The heat is starting to make it go all soggy."
Donatello gave him a long, steady look. "Gee, I'd love to," he said sourly after a moment, and snatched up the bag by its handles.
"Coke, too," his brother sang out cheerfully, and slung the bottle to him when he was half was to the kitchen. Donatello turned and caught it with some difficultly, awkwardly juggling his bo staff and the coaxial cable and the bag and the bottle between his hands before something could hit the floor in a spectacular fashion. He ended up with the cable around his neck, the bottle and staff in hand and the bag dangling from his teeth.
"What's wrong with your shoulder?" Michaelangelo finally asked Leonardo, rearing up from the cushion slightly to regard his brother curiously, even as a muttering Donatello stalked off into the kitchen.
"Nothing," Leonardo replied, shrugging and flexing his arms. "You guys caught me right in the middle of some exercises, that's all. Just trying to keep the muscles loose."
"Ah," Michaelangelo said sagely, and sank back. After several minutes worth of tossing and squirming into the cushions as he tried to make himself comfortable in the palpable heat he settled with just crossing his legs at the ankles and looked about the room instead. "Where's Splinter?"
"Asleep," Leonardo replied in mid-yawn. He jerked his thumb towards the hall leading off to the sleeping area and lowered his voice. "The heat and humidity seem to be bothering him tonight."
"It's pretty gross out," Michaelangelo agreed from the depths of the couch. "Hot and sticky and wet and just really nasty, period."
"Is it still raining out?" In the near distance, they could hear the muffled sound of a door slamming shut.
"You betcha. The storm's passed over, though. Still pretty soggy, though."
"And it's supposed to be like this for the rest of the week," Donatello added, padding out from the kitchen and brushing his hands together. The cable was slung around his neck and under his arm like a bandolier. He grimaced and perched himself on the arm of the couch, his expression pensive. "Makes me wish I'd gotten that air conditioner working."
"I thought you said the motor was busted?"
"It was. And the fan was toasted. And the transformer shot. And the case was cracked pretty badly. But I guess not too many people are gonna throw out a perfectly good A/C in the first place, especially in July."
"See, there you go," Michaelangelo said, satisfied. "Busted. Put out to pasture. You can't fix it if it's dead, Donnie. Don't worry about it."
"I should be worrying," Donatello fretted, chewing on his lower lip. "It's a big problem. This heat can be dangerous, especially for Master Splinter. If we get too hot, fine - we can just go lurk around topside at night to cool off. But he's not up to that sort of thing these days."
"You might be surprised," Leonardo murmured.
Donatello shifted his weight uncomfortably and decided it was time to shift the conversation onto the tracks of a new subject. Guilt was sitting heavily in the pit of his stomach, and the stifling, motionless air of the den wasn't going anything to bolster his confidence. The humidity felt like a hot, wet slap in his face. He gave a cursory glance around the room instead, his brow furrowed. "Where's Raph?"
"Yeah, where is the great green hunter?" Michaelangelo's voice echoed from the couch.
"Still out," Leonardo grunted shortly, leaning up against the hall entrance. The hand on the end of the arm he was still revolving gingerly had unconsciously closed into a fist; it swung back and forth like a wrecking ball.
"I figured that storm would have chased him back," Donatello said. "It's pretty miserable out there."
"I think he prefers it that way."
"I liked his note this time," Michaelangelo added with a yawn, stretching like a cat. "Very to the point. Very Raphish. 'Gone out. Back later.'"
"Ambiguous," Donatello remarked with aplomb.
"Do you think?" Leonardo said sourly.
They all jumped when the phone rang shrilly.
Leonardo's cheek twitched. "I hate that sound."
Donatello regarded him with no small amount of surprise and sympathy. His stoic brother typically radiated a kind of even tempered calm on all bands of the emotional spectrum; he was usually the last of them to be affected by such petty nuisances. "Has it really been that annoying?"
His brother merely nodded and stared off into space, his eyes narrowing.
Twisting around where he sat to shoot the phone booth a quick, critical glance, Donatello rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and said uncertainly, "Maybe I really should just take it off the hook for the night. None of us are going to get any sleep if it keeps this up."
"Better not ring during Highlander, s'all I can say," Michaelangelo's voice growled up from the cushions. His feet, resting up on the opposite arm rest, kicked together testily. "Put that puppy to sleep, Donnie."
"It can't hurt for one night," Leonardo amended, thinking of Splinter. He automatically winced when a third ring stridently shattered the silence, hunching into his shoulders and turning his back towards the phone.
"Who on earth calls at this hour?" Donatello said in exasperation, throwing up his hands.
His brother lounging on the couch brightened noticeably. He mimicked a gun with his fingers, took careful aim at a dark patch the ceiling with one eye squeezed shut, and pulled the trigger. "Probably some ax murdering maniac casing out the place, checking up to see if we're all home first before skulking into the sewer to brutally kill us in our sleep."
Leonardo slowly shook his head in amazement. "You watch way too many horror movies, Michael."
"Yeah. And the eleven o'clock news, Leo."
His brother snorted loudly at that and crossed his arms over his chest, but said nothing in reply. Satisfied with that small victory, Michaelangelo turned back to machine-gunning invisible enemies off the ceiling.
"It's probably just AT&T trying to sell us a new phone service again," Donatello muttered darkly.
Michaelangelo screwed up his face. "Yeagh, even worse. Kill it stab it send it to hell!"
They all groaned loudly at the forth insistent ring, and Donatello slid off the arm of the couch. "That's it, I'm putting it to bed. The machine can catch this last call and then that's it for the night. I don't think a whole lot of people are going to be interested in selling us pool supplies or free long distance for much later than this, anyway. If this guy is serious about getting hold of us tonight, he'll just have leave a message like everyone else in the civilized world."
"Way to give him hell, Don," Michaelangelo cheered from the couch. "Now, where's my remote? This has been fun and all, but now it's just eating into my valuable TV time."
"Find it yourself," he heard Leonardo reply, half amused, half exasperated.
Donatello shouldered his way roughly into the booth, stepping carefully over the wires he'd used to rig it up to the answering machine, which sat meekly on a short stack of hardcover medical textbooks nearby. At the fifth ring he grimaced and made a mental note to set the machine to answer after the first. He glancing over at its tiny display screen and frowned at what he saw; the number wasn't a familiar one, nor was it an emergency call. This was someone from outside his sphere of knowledge. He waited patiently inside the booth until he heard the recognizable click of the machine kicking in, and only lifted the receiver from its cradle after the message finished playing. After squeezing back out of the booth he punched at the rewind button on the answering machine and was mildly surprised to find that nothing had recorded.
He frowned, puzzled. All that fuss for nothing?
"Oh well," he said aloud, shrugging and stretching and ambling over to join his brother on the couch, even as he unslung the coaxial cable from over his shoulder. "Guess it wasn't an emergency or anything after all."
It was a dark night.
The storm had finally retreated off to the west like a defeated army, crawling back to the distant coast of New Jersey until it was little more than a dark line on the midnight horizon. When the clouds finally peeled back the stars shone through the patches like impassionate eyes, crested by a thin white crescent moon. The air remained as hot as a blast furnace, as damp and muggy as a swamp, and a thick haze of fog draped motionlessly above the sidewalks. It stank of water on asphalt, of steam and warm garbage. A light sprinkling of rain still fell upon the city, gently riding on gusts of wind. The streets of Manhattan pulsed with light and glistened wetly with water.
Inside an alley at the east end of the Seventy-Second Street, they also glistened with something else.
"We're going to need some tarps for this," a police officer noted sourly. Crouched on his haunches he dismally spread his long coat protectively over lines of chalk and red moisture, with the dour expectation that it would do little to hold back the rain. Already the red was starting to look a little wane against the black asphalt, thin pink lines of water trickling away between the tiny pebbles imbedded in its surface. The rain pelted lightly into his back, and dripped down his neck and through his hair. He stared so hard at the sticky streaks silently washing away that he felt his eyes start to sting in protest, like the damning vision was burning itself straight into the backs of his retinas, to haunt his dreams for the rest of the night.
"Don't worry about covering the chalk," his partner said absently, vainly juggling a plastic clipboard and notebook, a flashlight, a tape measure, several small plastic bags and vials, a few rigid containers, a small stack of paper envelopes and paper bags, and several styroform cups with cotton swaps stabbed through them all at once. Remarkably, he was succeeding. An oil pencil was poised in his teeth, and his words came slightly muffled around it. He was standing at the corner of the alley, his back to the hotel, his face and wet coat gruesomely lit up in red and blue and violet from the ring of patrol cars parked beyond. The silhouette from a fire escape was printed starkly against the light, perched over his head like a rusty skeleton. Blast of hot air from a kitchen vent overhead ruffled through his wet hair. He cleared his throat and raised his voice against the clamourous jumble of background noises drifting past the entrance, individual words that were tight and confused and fuzzy all at once occasionally rising up out of the mess to be heard in perfect clarity. "It's oil based. It ain't going anywhere."
"It's not that I'm worried about," the first man said pensively. "It's these splatters. Not going to be able to check the patterns if they get washed away."
"I wouldn't worry too hard. Most of them have all been photographed by now anyway." He jerked his pencil towards two small cameras dangling from a strap around his neck, a 35mm with a bulky wide angle lense attached and a Polaroid. "A couple other guys did some one-to-one shots too. And I did a shitload of sketches earlier and got all the measurements, before the damn medics started wandering around and fucking up the scene. Did you see where they parked the Agent Van? I got about three pounds of swabs I wanna get over to evidence as soon as possible, before this lousy humidity spoils them. I guess I'll trot over to Property Unit too, and then straight to the labs. Crime scene's gonna want to get a hold on all this right away too, or they'll get real bitchy."
"It's out on the street, by the car. You got your portable on you?"
"Yup. Called in Homicide on it. Kilgore looks almighty pissed."
The first officer grunted and didn't budge. "When doesn't she. Call me if anything pops up, will you?"
"You planning on sticking around a while?"
"Yeah. Kilgore's out walking the trail again with Yates and Donald, and she'll probably have some questions."
"Did that kitchen kid from the hotel take off yet?"
"Naw, Dan's got him holed up in his car."
"That's good. Homicide will want to talk with him before he starts forgetting stuff."
"Yeah. Poor little bastard."
"What a big fucking mess," he said gloomily, squinting up into the rain and the night beyond.