The Last Stand

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The Last Stand

Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

20 Aug 2014, 05:32 #1

And here's my other new tale- a dark and tragic take on the aftermath of the TMNT's final battle, and how it will affect the lives of the people who were closest to them, and one stranger who searches for the truth.

The Last Stand

Detective Jack Kurtzman held a handkerchief over his nose as he traversed the dank, smelly sewer tunnel. The call had come in less than an hour earlier, of some sort of explosion that blew the cover off a manhole on 24th Street during rush hour traffic. When the sanitation workers had investigated, they had found part of a tunnel wall blown apart, revealing a long-unused section of the sewer that had supposedly been sealed off in the seventies to save on renovation costs. But that wasn’t why he’d been called in. What the workers had found on the other side of the wall had astounded and perplexed everyone. It was, quite simply, the most peculiar crime scene anyone had ever discovered.

He stepped through the hole in the tunnel, into what could only be described as the aftermath of a battle, which had apparently taken place in someone’s home. Besides the destroyed tunnel wall, there were signs of a struggle everywhere in what must have once been a cozy living room. Broken furniture, a lamp knocked over, rugs out of place and bunched up, items scattered about or destroyed, all pointed to some sort of invasion. It might have appeared to be the home of ordinary street people, except that several bodies lay amid the rubble, along with the remains of dozens of cat-sized machines that resembled a T-rex without a tail, with spindly legs and clawed feet, and over-sized heads that seemed to consist mainly of a pair of huge jaws with razor-sharp “teeth”. The small robots were a strange enough find by themselves, but it was the bodies that had garnered the most attention, for one reason- they appeared to be giant, humanoid turtles.

There were four of them- and from initial indications, they were all males. They had apparently died fighting off the strange robots, for each of them had weapons either in their hands or near their bodies. Even the weapons they had used were unusual; Kurtzman stepped carefully through the debris, and saw signs that the small but vicious-looking robots had not been the only intruders. Bloody prints of booted feet had been left behind, along with bits of torn cloth and scattered weapons that were similar to those the four victims had wielded.

Even the positions of the victims indicated that they had tried to defend themselves against overwhelming odds. One body lay half atop a second, as though the victim had crawled or dragged himself over to his fallen companion. The other two lay in positions that indicated they had been guarding each other’s backs. A fifth body- this one belonging to what looked like a four-foot, kimono-clad humanoid rat- had been found as well, though it was impossible to tell its gender from a glance. From the amount of grey in its wiry brown fur, however, it must have been old.

He glanced around the room, looking for some clue of what these creatures were and perhaps why they were here at all. There were doorways leading from the other three sides of the small but comfortable living room, one leading to what seemed to be a fully-appointed kitchen- although the appliances must have been at least twenty years old, from the look of them. He went into the kitchen and dining room, looking around slowly for signs of what had happened, and saw a door standing half-open at the other end. He moved toward it, peeking into the room beyond, and was surprised by what he saw. It was, by the amount and variety of equipment, a combination chemistry lab, electronic and appliance repair station, and infirmary. Clearly, someone had been something of a tinkerer and amateur scientist, as well as performing first aid on occasion.

Kurtzman shook his head, and carefully went back out into the living room, once more examining the scene of the carnage that had occurred there. All of the bodies had gouges in their flesh from the robotic attackers, yet there were indications of other injuries as well. Deep cuts that were clearly the result of some sort of blades, criss-crossed the skin of all four, and one of them had apparently been hit on the head by something hard and heavy, for his skull was very obviously cracked.

He crouched down to examine the two bodies furthest from the door-hatch, lying near the rat’s battered corpse. There was a set of three long, deep gashes across the rat’s chest, almost like claw marks, but clearly made by very sharp blades. A similar but smaller set of cuts marked the giant rodent’s graying face, and it- HE, Kurtzman now saw upon closer scrutiny- was missing half of his tail and the end of his right ear. From the positions of the two turtles nearby, it appeared as if one of the giant turtles had fallen while trying to aid the dying rat-man, his throat slashed by the same set of blades that had taken the life of the rodent. The second turtle had likely been killed when he turned back to check on the purple-clad one and the rat, only to be struck down by a sword-thrust to his back.

The other two had apparently met similar fates, with the one in red having been clubbed repeatedly over the head by something large and heavy- someone must have truly wanted him dead, judging by the force of the trauma- while his blue-banded companion had simply succumbed to the onslaught of his attackers, torn to pieces by the small mechanical monsters. Kurtzman thought he might have been the last one to fall, defiant even after the others had all been slain.

He began to look around more closely at the contents of this hidden home, to learn something about who- or perhaps WHAT was a more appropriate term- had lived there. There was a large poster of an old sci-fi movie on the wall near the door, and someone had humorously placed a stop sign above the television in the corner, and an exit sign above the door. Shattered glass with silver backing and a broken frame marked where a mirror had hung on the wall where the gaping hole now was. On the wall between the living room and kitchen, a ripped rice-paper banner with Japanese symbols hung next to a bookshelf. And on the far wall, opposite the kitchen, he spotted two photos. Both showed the same creatures whose bodies were even now being carefully photographed by the crime-scene team, but at different ages. The first showed the rat seated in a recliner- the same one that sat in the corner beside the sewer-hatch entrance- with four much smaller turtles seated in his lap, all smiling. A family photo? The other was similar, but in it, the strange turtle creatures were much older, and all sat or stood around the rat sitting on the tattered old sofa in the middle of this very room.

“You’ve been here for a long time, haven’t you?” Kurtzman muttered to himself absently, noting that in both pictures, the strange family appeared close, and relatively happy. He turned toward an open archway that led deeper into the oddly “normal” home, and found himself moving toward the dark space beyond. He found a light hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room, and pulled the small string to turn it on. It illuminated a large mostly empty space with a bamboo mat on the floor, a small table with the shards of what had been a porcelain vase in a corner by the archway, and two short, closed-off tunnels on either side that apparently served as sleeping quarters. A doorway closed off by a rice-paper wall stood at the other end.

He started with the alcove nearest him, on his left. It held only a bed, a set of well-organized bookshelves, and a small desk strewn with small electronic pieces, papers covered with notes and designs for various devices, and several astronomy and chemistry posters. Two small model planes hung from a pipe on the ceiling. Whomever the room had belonged to had been both intelligent and keenly interested in science. “So, that was your little workshop in there…. Interesting.” Kurtzman muttered to himself, noting that the bed appeared rumpled and messy, though the rest of the room was meticulously orderly. He spotted a door in the far end, and cautiously opened it to find that it led back into the very same workspace. “Easy access. Convenient.”

The second room he went to was the further one on the same side, and it was as different from the first as one could get. He saw posters of popular movies and superheroes, as well as one or two swimsuit models depicted. The bed was messy, as was the rest of the room, with comic books, a skateboard, a box full of sports equipment and old toys, and a small desk covered with what appeared to be art supplies, a sketchbook, and small action figures of superheroes and movie characters. The small bookshelf was haphazardly filled with comic books and paperback novels, most of which seemed to be either fantasy or sci-fi. He noticed an old, worn, stuffed panda on the bed, and shook his head sadly. Its owner no longer needed it now….

He quickly checked the other two rooms and found them both to be just as different. The one closest to the archway was neat, Spartan in decor, and spotless. Only an old poster of Bruce Lee and a large banner of a Yin-Yang hung form the walls. On a shelf above the bed sat a vase and a Samurai helmet, while a rack opposite the bed held a pair of Japanese swords. A small desk, neat and clean as was everything, held only a stack of colored rice paper and a few carefully folded origami figures. The single bookshelf contained books on martial arts and history, as well as a few books on weapons and warfare. “A war history buff? These creatures seem almost human!” Kurtzman was beginning to suspect that there was more to these strange creatures than met the eye.

The last room had what appeared to be a mix of model ships and sports gear, with a neatly-made bed, a pair of crossed pirate cutlasses, and a couple of boxing and wrestling posters. Only a few books sat on the shelves in that room, mostly detective novels and popular thrillers. “Teen-agers. These rooms belonged to teen-aged boys.” The revelation struck him suddenly; now the photos in the living room made sense. This had been their home for a very long time, and the rat had been their father.

He spotted a second door at the other end, but it only opened into a small but functional bathroom, complete with a shower with two heads so that two could bathe at the same time. He noted five toothbrushes, a linen shelf with five towels- four of them in bright colors that matched the masks he’d seen on the four giant turtles- and a small rack of magazines on the wall next to the toilet. He thumbed through the rack curiously, and found motorcycle and sports magazines, a science magazine, and a couple of martial arts magazines. He’d seen enough.

He walked back out into the main bedroom area, and glanced toward the rice-paper door at the back of the room, and sighed. “That must have been the rat’s room,” he surmised, and his guess proved accurate when he slid the panel aside. It was sparsely furnished with a bed-mat, a small corner table with a bonsai tree, and a beautifully decorated rice-paper screen. The floor was covered with another bamboo mat, a rack of Japanese swords and a small writing table with parchment scrolls and calligraphy pens and ink sat on one side of the room. “The rat was Japanese? Or was he just interested in the culture?” He wondered aloud, shaking his head again at the strangeness of it all.

He went back into the living room, passing the coroner scratching his head as he stood staring at the bodies he was expected to remove. The poor man was no doubt mystified as to exactly what they were. “Just try to pretend this is a normal crime scene, Phil. We can sort out exactly what we’re dealing with later.” Kurtzman advised the man helpfully, though he certainly understood his confusion.

There was only one room left to check- the room opposite the kitchen, just off the living room wall where the television stood. He knew he had found something important the moment he set foot inside. It looked like a makeshift gym, or a training room of some kind. Gymnast rings, a gymnastics horse, a balance beam, uneven bars, a punching bag, and a sparring pole sat in various positions around the room. A climbing rope hung from a shaft that led up, probably to an unused manhole. A large practice mat covered most of the floor, but what drew his attention were the racks of weapons. All of them were Japanese in origin, from the wrappings and style of them, and all of them were old. Katanas, nunchaku, a staff, spears, even a set of what looked like blunt-tipped daggers with prongs on either side- and those were just the ones he could readily identify. Other weapons were among them, such as one that looked like three long sticks connected to each other by chains, and one that appeared to be a short curved blade on a handle, attached to a chain with a weight at its other end.

“Just what the hell IS all this?” He wondered, staring in befuddlement. These creatures even used throwing stars, for there were several stuck in a target at one end of the room. No wonder they had gone down fighting- they had obviously been taught how to defend themselves. But not well enough, as it turned out. Or perhaps they had simply been overrun, and had become too exhausted or too badly injured to continue the fight. Their last stand.

“Don’t worry, boys. I’ll find out who did this. And WHY.” Kurtzman didn’t know why it suddenly seemed so important to him to find out who was responsible for the murders- and it WAS murder, no matter that the victims had not been human- but he knew that it would eat at him until he found the truth.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

24 Aug 2014, 04:43 #2

Here's the next part of the story. Kurtzman is starting to feel an unusual connection to this case and the unfortunate victims, for reasons even he doesn't quite understand. And then he discovers what might possibly be the lead he needs to find out what happened in that hidden abode.....

He took a last glance around the small abode, still amazed that these- whatever they had been- had survived for so long down here, their existence unknown to the outside world. Perhaps that was the point, he decided. Most people would have felt uncomfortable at the very least, knowing that such creatures lived right under their feet. More to the point, they were a biologically impossible mix of human and reptile that he was certain could never have come about without some sort of outside tinkering. That meant someone had CREATED them. Were there more such beings hiding somewhere in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city? Had they been part of an experiment that somehow got loose? From what he had seen here, they were certainly intelligent, even literate and likely capable of speech. That was disturbing enough on its own, but the fact that they had also apparently been trained in some form of martial arts and weaponry was even more disquieting. But someone had known they existed. Had their creators come to reclaim them, or to dispose of the evidence of their mistake? If so, why leave the bodies behind for others to find?

No, he decided at last, this appeared more like a crime of hate. Someone had known they were down here, and had brutally attacked them- in their own home, no less- out of nothing more than a desire to kill. Little care had been taken even to hide what had been done. This was personal, he realized.

“Sir, what do we do with all of this stuff down here?” One of the forensics team asked him curiously.

Kurtzman nodded to himself absently, scratching his head as he indicated the room with a wave of his hand. “I want a complete inventory of everything down here; furniture, personal belongings, household items- all of it. Somewhere in this place is a clue to who is responsible for this massacre. I want everything dusted for prints, go over each room for any trace evidence that might have been left by the killers, and I want everything that can be carried taken out of here and logged into evidence. And see if you can find anything that might tell us where these…anomalies came from. Somewhere, someone has to know SOMETHING about these creatures!”

“Y-yes sir, Detective!” The younger man said uncertainly, looking around him nervously. The man eyed the bodies warily as the coroner’s two assistants began to place the first of the five in a bag for transport to the morgue. The rat was the first one to be zipped up, being the smallest and lightest. The other four, though…. He could see the pair struggling with the largest of the strange turtle-boys, clearly not expecting them to be as heavy as they evidently were.

“Geez, these things weigh more than I thought! Kind of makes you wonder what they ate, doesn’t it?” One of them commented. His partner’s eyes grew bigger, as he noted the large, rounded snout and bulging, corded muscles of the red-banded one they were lifting into a body-bag.

“Actually, I think I’d rather not know. Maybe that’s what happens to peoples’ pets that go missing- maybe these things ate stray animals. I’d hate to meet one of them down here while it was alive!” The second assistant replied with a shudder. Kurtzman shook his head and sighed in disgust, figuring the man for an idiot.

“Don’t be ridiculous, son- they were just kids. Those bedrooms back there were just like every teenage boy’s room we’ve ever had to examine. These weren’t THINGS, they were intelligent living beings who lived like any other family. There’s a refrigerator in that kitchen, and I’d lay odds that it’s probably full of sodas and junk food. Have a little respect for the dead, even if they ARE a bit strange-looking.” He turned, gazing once more around the room before he stepped back out into the damp darkness of the tunnel.

He didn’t know what had set him off like that; maybe it was the dismissive way the two men had spoken about the poor souls who had died in that room, or maybe it was the fact that the strange creatures’ names- and he was sure they must have had names- would probably never be known. They had lived in anonymity, and had died the same way. It made him feel a peculiar desire to treat them with some shred of dignity, and perhaps avenge their murders, though he had no idea why. After all, what were they to him? Strangers, and inhuman ones, at that. And yet…. He couldn’t help feeling that these poor, dead beast-children and their “father” deserved better than to be treated as mere curiosities.

“Jack, you got a minute?” Phil asked, approaching him as he headed for the manhole to return to the street. He’d seen all he needed to here.

“Sure, what do you need?” He responded, pulling the handkerchief back out and holding it over his nose again. How had that small family lived for so long in these conditions? The smell alone was enough to make him slightly nauseous. Worse, he was fairly certain that whatever the puddles he was stepping in contained, it had probably ruined his shoes. And they had all been barefoot….

“The press is starting to ask questions about what we found down here. They want to know why we brought body-bags down here, and what caused the explosion. What are we going to tell them?” His friend asked, his face creased with worry.

“Tell them a half-truth; that we found several vagrants who were killed during the explosion. We can say we think it was a gas line that ruptured, and we think someone had an open flame down here. That’s close enough to satisfy them for now. And tell everyone else to give the same story. NO ONE mentions what we REALLY found, or that there is a murder investigation going on. For now, it’s just a minor matter for the city sanitation and utilities workers, and we’re treating it as an accident scene. That’s the official story until we know what we’re dealing with. Make sure the bodies are kept under close supervision and those bags stay closed until we can determine exact cause of death discreetly.” He let out a ragged breath, scowling as he considered what kind of media circus it would create if word of the truth got out.

“What about the evidence they’re going to be bringing out? How do we explain that?” Phil pointed out with an arched brow. Damn. Kurtzman mentally kicked himself. He’d almost forgotten that detail.

“They were squatters, and we’re trying to sort through their personal effects to identify them for families to claim the bodies. Simple enough.” Jack shrugged, suddenly feeling decades older than his fifty-two years. He idly wondered if it was time to think about retiring, when he could so easily slap together a story to feed the press to hide what was probably the biggest news story in history- proof that genetic engineering had finally gone too far, not to mention the disturbing fact that the results of said tinkering had been living right under the city’s collective noses for years.

“You think they’ll buy that?” The coroner asked dubiously. He knew as well as the detective did that if the media got so much as a hint that something wasn’t right about this incident, they would sniff out the real story like a pack of bloodhounds on the trail of a fugitive.

“Let’s hope so. They’d have a field day with this, and we’d never be able to close this case. And those bodies would end up displayed for tourists to gawk at like a bunch of cheap carnival attractions. No one deserves that.” Jack said sourly, running a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. He needed a shot of bourbon. No, he needed a whole BOTTLE.

Phil looked at him curiously. “I didn’t know you were such an animal-lover, Jack,” he joked. “What’s with the sudden sympathy for a bunch of genetically engineered freaks? To hear you talk, one might almost think they were human. I’m surprised.”

“Freaks or not, they were still intelligent beings, Phil,” he replied tiredly. “I saw toys, family photos, pictures of swimsuit models, and motorcycle magazines in that little haven. One of them tinkered with computers and had a complete first aid station set up in there, for God’s sake! And another one had a room full of comic books and a skateboard. A SKATEBOARD, Phil! They were just kids! They didn’t ASK to be freaks! Someone MADE them that way!” He didn’t know why he was snapping at his old colleague, but he was saddened by the lack of compassion he saw for the victims of this crime.

“Okay, calm down, pal! I must’ve really hit a nerve; I’ve never seen you get so worked up over a case before. Why does this one have you so uptight? Something you want to talk about?” His friend asked worriedly. They’d known each other for years- they had helped each other through failed marriages, lost colleagues on the force. Jack had even watched the coroner’s two kids grow up. One had been killed in a car wreck two years ago, the other was away at college. Maybe that was it.

“I don’t know,” the detective sighed. “Something about seeing how those victims lived, and how they tried to protect each other from- whatever happened in there- it just reminded me of every family we’ve ever seen murdered over the years. Any one of them could have run away and left the others to die, but they didn’t. I just feel like there’s more to this than we’ll ever know, and it’s got me wanting to find out as much as possible about who they were. We may never even know their names, but I feel like they deserve better than to end up as nameless oddities in a museum or freak show, or specimens in a lab. These were unique and special individuals, and they deserve to have their story known.”

The other man gave him a long, thoughtful gaze, and finally nodded. “Yeah, I see where you’re coming from. I hadn’t really thought about it that way; guess I’ve just been so caught up in the craziness of this situation that it never occurred to me to think of them as real people. It’s just so damned strange!” He chuckled, clapping his friend on the back, and they ascended up the ladder to the street. “If you DO find out where they came from, let me know, will you? I’m curious how those creatures could even exist from a biological standpoint. They should be a physical impossibility!” He continued as they climbed.

“Deal. If I find out anything, you’ll be the first to know.” Jack agreed, glad when they finally got back up to the fresher air above ground. Phil went to inform the rest of the investigators and clean-up crew on the scene about what they should tell the media. Meanwhile, the detective headed for his car to drive back to the station and prepare for the work ahead. He had a feeling this was going to be a tough case.

He was halfway to his beat-up blue Oldsmobile Cutlass when he heard a female voice calling to him from just beyond the police safety line. “Excuse me, Detective- could you answer a few questions?” Kurtzman turned, and saw a tall, stunning red-head in a yellow leather jacket over a white tank top and figure-hugging jeans. She held a microphone and was followed closely by a man with a news camera in a flashy pink button-down and designer slacks with a purple tie and suspenders. Jack groaned to himself; the microphone and camera had a large logo on the side, for Channel Six, one of the largest local television stations in the city.

“I’m April O’Neil with Channel Six News- can you tell us what caused the explosion earlier today? Is it true that several people were killed in the blast?” The woman asked, holding the microphone toward him. “Is there any danger to the public from this incident?”

He wished once again for a good stiff drink to help him deal with the headache otherwise known as the press. “Miss O’Neil, the official word at this time is that some squatters had an open flame going when a gas line ruptured. There have been casualties, but there is no danger to the public at this time. City Sanitation and Public Works have already determined the cause, and the problem is already being dealt with. I have no further comment.” He hoped that would satisfy the woman, because he just wasn’t prepared for anything more involved than that.

“Thank you, Detective….” She replied, and held it out again, waiting for him to give his name.

“Jack Kurtzman, Eighteenth Precinct.” He stated flatly, giving her a curt nod of farewell.

“And remember, you heard it here first. April O’Neil Happy Hour News, back to you, June.” She waved a hand at the cameraman in a cutting motion, and he lowered the camera. “That’s a wrap, Vernon. I’ll meet you back at the van in a few minutes, but I need to take care of something first.”

“Alright, but hurry it up April. Berne doesn’t like it when we keep him waiting!” The man had a slightly nasal, whiney tone and an air of conceit, and Jack noticed that the woman rolled her eyes at his complaining. He idly wondered if the cameraman was always so annoying. The man wandered off, presumably to return to their news van; the red-head moved closer, crossing the police line to approach Jack discreetly, with a worried expression that told him she wasn’t finished after all.

“Excuse me, Detective, but could I ask you a few questions off the record?” She asked him uncertainly. She glanced over at the manhole, where even now the first bag was being lifted out onto a gurney to be placed in the back of the coroner’s wagon. It appeared relatively empty and light, as though it held the body of a child or very short person. Her gasp was so soft that he almost missed it, but he didn’t miss the way she bit her lower lip anxiously, and she looked ready to cry.

“I’ve already given you all the information I have at this time,” he replied tiredly, wondering why she seemed so upset. They both turned to watch as the second bag was brought up, this one larger and much heavier, from the way the assistants were struggling with it awkwardly. He wondered how much those strange turtle-boys weighed; he guessed their shells must add a lot of mass for their size, which he had guessed to be a bit less than five and a half feet.

“Please, can you just tell me whether those casualties you mentioned were…human? Or were they- something else?” Her question was so unexpected that the detective’s head snapped back around to stare at her with his jaw hanging open in shock. She had spoken quietly, her voice low enough that no one else would hear. How could she have known? He cursed mentally, wondering who the loose lips had belonged to. Whomever had let the truth slip had a lot to answer for, he decided.

“And just what else would they BE?” He answered dubiously, trying to play it cool. Maybe he could pretend that she was chasing some unfounded rumor or urban myth.

“They weren’t- turtles, were they?” She asked in a soft, anxious tone, her hand shaking slightly as she clutched her microphone. Jack’s brows rose, as he realized she DID know something about what had been down there- and it seemed to have upset her.

“Miss O’Neil, what makes you think they were turtles?” He asked pointedly. He leaned against the side of his car, folding his arms as he waited for her to explain how she had known the bodies hadn’t been human.

She seemed to contemplate how to answer his question for a few moments, before finally looking over to see another bag being lifted up to join the first two. The bag shifted, as its contents rolled to one side, revealing a distinctly rounded and smooth form within. Her eyes flew wide, and she turned away for a moment. She knew something, he was sure.

“I- I knew them, Detective. How did it happen? There were four of them- five, if I count Splinter- did anyone survive? How many did you find?” Her reply sounded pained, and Jack understood that the reporter had been keeping their existence secret for some time.

“There were five bodies in all. Four turtles and a rat. You say you KNEW them? Would you mind explaining that, Miss O’Neil?” He asked incredulously. Maybe this was the break in the case he needed; God knew he would never know the whole story if he had to dig for it on his own. Yet this woman seemed to know exactly what had been living down there, if not the circumstances of their demise. He hoped she could shed some light on this bizarre case.

“Oh, God….” She looked as if she might be ill, her face gone pale. “I- I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me. I- I think I need to sit down.” She appeared on the verge of collapse, though he didn’t understand why. In fact, if it didn’t sound so ludicrous in his head, he might have sworn she was reacting as though he’d just informed her that a family member had died. Then again, if she had actually known them as she had said, maybe it wasn’t so ludicrous after all.
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

Joined: 28 Nov 2007, 20:55

14 Sep 2014, 03:29 #3

Here's a bit more, where we get to see some of April's reaction, some memories of the boys, and Jack begins to learn the truth......

Kurtzman opened his car door to give her a seat; the reporter slumped down into it shakily, raising her eyes momentarily to watch as a fourth bag was awkwardly shoved up out of the hole and placed on the ground for a moment while its final companion was lifted up to join it. Both bags lay with their occupants oddly balanced, their rounded backs causing the limbs to flop back like discarded rag dolls.

“I’d like to hear your story, Miss O’Neil,” Jack said, lighting a cigarette. If what he suspected was true, she might be the only person in the world who could shed some light on this case. “Who were they? And how did you know about them?”

“They were- my friends. I met them a couple of years ago while I was working on a story. I was reporting on that crime wave that was giving the police department so many headaches. But I got too close to the truth after talking to some immigrants who remembered something very similar in Japan about sixteen years earlier.” She looked up at him, her expression calm but solemn. Kurtzman got the impression she had been very close to the unusual little family.

He nodded, puffing on his cigarette absently. “I remember that. The so-called ‘Ninja Thieves’. Chief Sterns didn’t like the press calling him out for ignoring that angle.”

“Neither did they, apparently,” she replied. “Their head honcho sent some men after me, and I ended up crawling down a storm drain to try to get away. It didn’t deter them. They almost had me, until…. Someone came to my rescue. Four someones. Believe me, I was so terrified at first that I fainted. Can you imagine? A news reporter, in New York of all places, fainting like some weak little pansy?” She laughed for a moment, then glanced back to the last bag being loaded into the meat wagon, and he saw her eyes mist up.

“You must have known those- creatures- very well, Miss O’Neil. What were their names?” Jack asked. It would be good to have something better than “John Doe Turtle #1-4” to put on the toe-tags. He’d considered labeling them by color, but that wouldn’t be practical if the colored masks were removed.

“Splinter- I suppose he was what you’d call their father- named them after his former master’s favorite artists. The one in blue was Leonardo; he was considered as the oldest. Raphael, the one in red, was second. The one in purple was named Donatello; he usually had tools or some little gadget on him, more often than not. The last one- Michelangelo- was in orange. Splinter considered him the youngest.”

She paused, as though collecting her thoughts; Jack made a mental note to tell Phil not to remove the colored masks until he had I.D.’ed them. He didn’t know if they had any distinguishing features to help tell them apart, so it was probably best just to leave them on. He glanced over at the wagon and caught the coroner’s eye, and then pulled the cell-phone from his pocket. He shot off a quick message. <Have a lead on victims’ I.D.’s. Don’t take off their headbands- colors will tell us which is which.>

He saw the man look down at his own cell, and begin tapping out a message. Jack’s cell dinged; the text read, <Anything to do with the red-head in your car? Looks like your lucky day. Is she connected to this?>

<Yes to both. April O’Neil- a reporter, of all things. Says she knew them. Just got their names, so that’s something. I’ll send them to you or come down later. Need to talk to her first.> Kurtzman sent back quickly. His colleague nodded.

<Channel Six, right? Bring her with you- it can’t hurt to have someone who knows what we’re dealing with. Later.> Phil gave him a mock salute, before getting into the wagon and driving away.

“What was that all about?” Jack turned back to the woman, who had watched the exchange with interest.

“Letting them know about the names. This case is complicated enough without having four victims all labeled John Doe. How long were they down there?” He asked curiously. So many questions to answer….

She sighed softly. “Leo would have been eighteen next month. Splinter gave them all separate birthdays, so they wouldn’t have to share one. It made them all feel more special to have their own day. That, and it meant that whatever gifts he managed to find for them belonged only to the one whose birthday was being celebrated.” She answered candidly.

Jack nodded, understanding the wisdom of such an arrangement, especially in a poor, isolated family with four young boys. “Eighteen years. That’s a long time to live in hiding. But where did they come from? Were they someone’s genetic experiment that got loose?” He asked. Every question she answered seemed to lead to a dozen more.

She laughed half-heartedly, and just for a moment, he saw something of the woman she must be. “Experiment? No, nothing quite that exotic or exciting. They were an accident. A miracle of science and nature created completely by mistake by the very man who killed Splinter’s owner. You see, he had stolen a powerful mutagenic compound from a company called T.C.R.I., but one of the canisters was lost, and ended up in the sewer, where it broke. Splinter came across it not long after it shattered; but so did four baby turtles who fell down a storm drain into the stuff when the kid who bought them from a pet shop dropped their bowl. That compound transformed them all into- what you saw. They were mutants, Detective. Donatello spent years trying to understand how the mutagen worked,; he even managed to determine what was in it. I still don’t understand it fully myself. All I know is that it combined their genes with the traces of human DNA from being handled when they were still in the pet shop. Splinter’s owner had been murdered only a few days earlier when they changed, so I suppose he still had some on him, too. He remembered the martial arts practiced by his master, and taught it to the boys so they could protect themselves. Basically, he raised them as ninjas.”

“Excuse me, did you say ninjas?” The detective asked incredulously. She nodded, and he huffed in disbelief. “Well, that explains the weapons and the training gym, at least. And you knew they were down there, and never told anyone?”

She nodded again. “Who would have believed me? Besides, I owed it to them to keep their secret. They may have looked strange, Detective, but they were decent, caring, brave, loyal, sweet boys. Well, Raph was a bit antisocial at times, and Mikey could be downright obnoxious when he wanted to, but mostly they were just lonely, insecure teenagers. They spent their entire lives hiding from the world, Detective, because they understood that most humans would never accept them. They lived in fear of discovery almost every day. Even just getting food was dangerous, because there was always the chance that they might get caught.”

“Just how DID they survive down there? I was surprised by how comfortable that little haven of theirs was; it looked like it had all the amenities, even if the furniture and appliances were all obviously secondhand. What did they eat? How would they have access to electricity and water?” Jack suspected the answer already, but it would help to hear it from her.

She shrugged. “Splinter originally used a small gas generator, but later Donnie figured out how to tap directly into the city’s power grid. I guess you could say they were pirating everything, including cable. Water was easy- Splinter just connected some pipes to the water mains, and installed a water heater he had scavenged. They got most of their food either by dumpster-diving for damaged goods, or slipping in to grab what they could from stockrooms when the trucking bay doors were open. They only took what they needed, and only if it wouldn’t be noticed. Leo was very firm about that. ‘Only what we need to survive’ was what he always said. That was Splinter’s one rule- no stealing anything that wasn’t a necessity.”

“So they were thieves?” Jack asked bluntly. He wasn’t especially surprised, of course. It made sense that such reclusive creatures would resort to some sort of illegal activities out of desperation, though he wondered how much of what they had was actually stolen. More likely scavenged for the most part, he was sure.

“Opportunists might be a better word. Most of what they had was scavenged from junkyards or cast-offs that people threw out. Donnie was good at fixing things. If it didn’t work, he’d figure out what was wrong, and find what he needed to MAKE it work. And they sometimes found money that fell down through grates, and used it to order food delivery when they could. Mostly pizza. It was their favorite.” April smiled a little, remembering Mikey’s habit of listing everything but anchovies when they ordered a pizza.

Jack nodded in understanding. They had resorted to theft not by choice, but out of pure necessity. He could understand how difficult it must have been to balance their personal needs against what was accepted as right. It was the old starving family dilemma, he realized. If a man stole bread to feed his family when they had no food or money, was it truly wrong?

“Detective, could I ask you a favor? I’d like to have something personal of theirs to keep; I think they would have wanted me to save something, to keep their memory alive.” Her question startled Kurtzman out of his reverie, and he frowned, not quite certain how to answer. Technically, everything in the small underground lair was evidence.

“I can’t promise anything, Miss O’Neil, but I’ll see what I can do.” Jack replied after a moment. “Anything in particular I should look for?”

She paused, a far-off look in her eyes, as she considered his question. “Raphael’s old fedora, for one. And the baseball signed by Conseco that I gave him for Christmas last year. It was his prized possession. And there was a book in Leo’s room on Japanese swords. I found it at a flea market a couple of years ago; you should have seen his eyes light up when he saw it! He loved that book. And he had a notebook of poetry he wrote. Haikus, mostly. I’d like to have it.”

Her eyes grew wet again, and she paused to collect her thoughts. “Mikey’s stuffed bear and skateboard- they were his two favorite things in the world- and his sketchbook. Donnie- I’m not sure. I think he had a diary on his laptop. I’d like to have it if I could. I think it was mostly his notes and observations about how they were created, daily activities, and some of his projects. The only other thing I can think of is his favorite book- it was a copy of Darwin’s theories. Donnie idolized him.”

Jack’s brow furrowed, and he slowly reached over to put out his cigarette in the ashtray. “I can probably swing most of those things, but if what you say is true, the laptop would be considered evidence. I might be able to make copies of the files, though. Will that do?”

He saw relief and gratitude on her face as she nodded. “Yes. Thank you, Detective Kurtzman. This means more than you can imagine.” She got out of the car, and he was about to ask her to go down to the station when a voice behind them interrupted.

“April! Come ON- we’re on a deadline, here!” Jack turned and saw the cameraman from earlier waiting impatiently.

“Pushy, isn’t he?” Kurtzman observed, pushing the battered hat up on his head.

“You have NO idea,” O’Neil agreed in an annoyed tone. “I have to go, but if you need anything else, or if you find out what happened, call me at Channel Six. Or- no, I have a better idea. Donnie built a set of video-pagers- one for each of them- that use their own secure network. They’re all pre-programmed, and can work either with a video-link or text. If you find them, you can use one to talk to me without anyone tracing the call. They’re green, shaped like a turtle shell- Donnie had a quirky sense of humor- and about the size of a make-up compact. He gave me one, too, so just push the six button, and I’ll get the message.”

“April! I’m not getting any younger!” The man in the purple tie carped at her anxiously.

“Or any less annoying….” She muttered between clenched teeth. “I’ll talk to you later, Detective!” She said, giving him a smile as she hurried off to join the irritating cameraman.

Jack huffed as she watched her leave, and turned to head back down into the tunnel , once more stepping through the rubble into the cozy home to search for the items the reporter had mentioned. The forensics team was already sorting through the debris in the front room for clues, and one of the men was taking photos of the scene. He sighed heavily as he looked down at the hard concrete floor. There were bloodstains scattered about the cold surface; a large green rug was the only covering, but it was bunched up and splattered with red now. They had died horribly; but not forgotten, he promised himself with a determined grimace.

He moved over to the wall behind the television, and carefully removed the two family photos. They had been taken with a tripod camera, probably with a timer, he decided. She hadn’t asked for them, but he was sure that if anyone should have them, it was the reporter. He wandered back to the bedroom area, and ducked into the first alcove on his right. He glanced over the shelf, which mostly held historical volumes, books on meditation and martial arts, and studies on warfare. He was surprised to note that it also held a few works of classic literature, like Dickens, Dumas, and Tolstoy, as well as Sun-Tzu. He finally found the one that Miss O’Neil had told him about; sure enough, the title read “The Japanese Sword”, and when he pulled it out, he discovered that the inside cover had been inscribed with a note from the reporter to the mutant. Leonardo, he corrected himself.

He turned to the desk, opening drawers until he found the notebook. When he opened it, he saw that each poem had been written in both Japanese and English. He also found something that made him smile- a quartet of small origami turtles, each in a different color, and an origami rat made from fuzzy grey paper.

He took the notebook and figures, and added them to the book and photos, before moving to the next room. It didn’t take long to find the hat and baseball. What surprised him was the box half-hidden under the bed, which contained what turned out to be a stash of Playboy, Penthouse, and other such magazines. He chuckled in spite of himself at the proof that at least one of the turtle-boys had possessed an eye for attractive females- and no doubt a healthy libido, as well. Jack took the magazines out of the box, placing them on the shelves in a stack, and carefully put the items he’d retrieved for the reporter in the box.

The next room was even easier. He thumbed through the sketchbook on the desk, and was surprised by the artistic skill of the young mutant. There was a notebook in one of the desk drawers, which contained what appeared to be a half-finished script for a graphic novel. On the desk, he also spotted a palm-sized green object, and picked it up. It was shaped like a round turtle shell, with a button on one side. It opened to reveal a button panel; the top half flipped up to show a small video-screen.

“Huh. Must be one of those cell-phones she mentioned,” he muttered, examining it in admiration. “This is the work of an electronic wizard- and to think he made them from cast-off parts!” He was about to press the button to page Miss O’Neil, when he realized that the forensics team might find the other shell-phones- he chuckled at the creative name- and discover that she had one. He didn’t know why, but he wanted to keep her involvement a secret for now. It was enough that Phil already knew. But Jack knew he could trust the man to keep quiet about her.

The last room he searched had belonged to the same sharp mind that was responsible for the shell-phone. He found the book by Darwin quickly- trust a genius to keep his shelves organized by subject and author- and had begun to open the door to the workshop when he noticed a sketch taped to the wall above the desk. It was a drawing of the deceased mutant, with some sort of weapon strapped to his arm. Next to the drawing, it read, “Don- life at best is bittersweet. See ya’ around, pal! -Kirby.”
"Well, this is another fine myth you've gotten us into..."
-from "Myth Directions"

"Where Science ends, magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491