Hey there! Another Raph-centric story featuring my OC, Amber. Thanks to anyone who reads these stories, I really hope that you are enjoying them, and thanks for giving fanfiction with an OC a chance... it means a lot.
I have at least another three stories planned that have Amber involved, one that's a one-shot and the other two multi-chaptered, but we'll see how we go.
I also have a couple of other Turtle stories in the draft stages of plot-planning, but I really like to write just one tale at a time, so stay tuned.
I would like to send out a heartfelt plea for reviews. I know many people read but don't review and I try not to be too much of a review-whore, but it really does help. It won't stop me from writing not to get them, but it strokes my ego and makes me feel good other people are enjoying the tales. So please… even if it's only a one-liner, make a comment… thank you!
It's a beautiful night.
The moon is full, a gun shot wound in the sky leakin' silvery light all over the inky water. The sky is indigo, clear without a cloud to blemish it. Down here on these docks the sounds of the city are faint, like whispers murmured into the breeze. The gentle lapping sounds of the water are like a lullaby, hypnotic and sweet in the dark. You can almost make believe there's nothin' but you, the water and the moon, at the end of the world.
It sure is a beautiful night.
Perfect for bustin' skulls.
They don't even know what hits 'em.
My manriki snakes out, cracking against one mug's skull. He goes down without a noise and as his pal turns around, eyes boggling, it lashes back, connecting with his jaw. There's a pop as it dislocates and he's out too, pistols clattering uselessly beside them.
I move forward, masked by shadows, towards the end of the dock where the rest of the gang is doing business with the importer in front of the boat, which hulks over them like a great silent beast, obscuring them from view. I can make out dark silhouettes, one small and bent at the shoulders, one tall and lean, the last guy squat and stocky. I see the bright orange end of a cigarette moving up and down in the air as they quietly discuss the transaction in another language – Thai, I think. There's the sound of money rustling, changing hands. The voices rise, the scratch of heels on hard ground. They're stepping towards the boat.
Sorry fellas. You're not gonna get to unload this merchandise.
They have guns. So I gotta be quick.
The manriki swings out, disarms the squat one. He yelps and grips his smarting hand, bent double as the other two gasp, whirl around. The little one leaps back; he's unarmed and quivering, stumbling back towards the boat.
I wait. Hidden in the shadows. The tall one steps forward, cocks his gun, aims it in front of him. I decide to make this one a close dance.
I wonder what he sees as I leap out of the darkness, hitting him full force in the chest, knocking him backwards. His arm whips up, the gun goes off with a cracking sound, shooting harmlessly into the sky. He hits the dock, me on top, wheezing. I pull him to his feet, fist to the gut, other to the jaw and he goes down. There's no struggle.
The squat one is still whimpering. I know his hand must be broken in a half dozen places. I decide not to risk it though and let his pained yelps lead me to him in the darkness.
Moments later I walk the gangplank, after the importer who's retreated there.
He comes at me from the right, some sorta pipe raised in his arms. I catch it midair, rip it from his grip. He's old but desperation makes him fierce. He wrests away from me, ducks with surprising swiftness, falls onto his haunches and backs up, hands scrabbling against the deck.
"Okay, okay," he entreats in halting English. "You take them! You! Take! You can have! They be good. They make much happy time. You enjoy."
I reach forward and grasp him by his beaten leather jacket, hauling him to his feet.
"What kinda drugs you got on here, creepy?"
He shakes his head violently, hands raised. "Is good! Is good! You take! Gift! They work hard!"
A tap with the back of my fist shuts him up.
He crumples to a heap on the deck and I walk to the cargo hold, curious. The double doors are unlocked and I swing them back, before descending, touching the sides of the helmet to switch on the twin flashlights there.
The women scream as the double circles of light sweep over them, cowering back against the wall, amongst the crates, clinging to each other as I approach them. There's six of them, young, pretty Asian women, rumpled and dirty from their long voyage, in cheap Thai dresses and pants. For a moment I don't quite comprehend what it is I'm seein', then all of a sudden it hits me in a rush as they continue to shriek and grasp at each other in sheer desperate terror.
NIGHTWATCHER VIGILANTE HALTS SHIPMENT OF TRAFFICKED WOMEN BROUGHT INTO NYC TO BE SOLD INTO SEX SLAVERY!
Amber snorted at the headline and tried to disdainfully bunch the newspaper into a ball. It was too thick and her shaking hands too weak; instead she ended up folding it over and over and jamming it into the wastebin by the door at Thistleways before turning to say goodbye to the night staff just starting their shift. Gary smiled and waved and she gave him a lopsided grin.
Outside the sky overhead was darkening, the last bright rays of the sun winking between the gaps of the buildings as she ran down the steps onto the street, lighting a cigarette. The summer evening was warm and humid and the city was buzzing as people finished their day of work and set about enjoying their night.
At the sound of a motor gunning, her head whipped up and she grinned. The silver bike hovered at the corner of Thistleway Avenue and Thistleway Lane, its familiar suited and hooded rider astride it and looking straight at her, big hands gripping the handlebars, one boot balancing against the asphalt. She picked up her pace, watched her pale reflection bob up and down in the mirrored visor of his helmet, swung one leg over the bike behind him and wrapped her arms about his waist as he hit the pedal and revved off.
He parked in a small laneway a couple of blocks from the river, lifted her onto the fire escape and followed behind her. When she had to pause to catch her breath half-way up, he slung her easily across his shoulders and kept climbing.
"You're such a show-off" she muttered dryly and thought perhaps she felt the vibration of a chuckle through his body as he continued to smoothly, quickly ascend. She'd quickly gotten used to being manhandled as he pursued the objective he wanted. He didn't like to wait.
They reached the rooftop. The building was a tall one, towering over the others that stretched out before them, affording a clear, unobstructed view of the river, glittering now in the moonlight. They went up there often. A sagging, weather-damaged old couch sat there with a rickety old coffee table, left there by a resident from below. The couch was grimy and smelled of mould, but it was always quiet up there, and the view was perfect.
He put her down and she let one hand linger on his shoulder a moment before moving away. Only then did he remove his helmet, the swish of the padding against his flesh, wiping his forehead with the back of one gloved hand.
"Can't imagine that's the coolest getup to move around in," she remarked, moving towards the couch and fishing in her knapsack for a bottle of booze.
"I manage." He replied shortly.
"Why don't you take it off?" She suggested and he flinched. She knew why. Knew he was still not wholly comfortable with her seeing him – all of him – as he really was. She wanted to force it. "Come on. It's just us up here and you look like you're cookin' in that thing."
He hesitated another moment, then abruptly stood, peeling off the gloves, kicking off the boots, undoing the long zip down the front of the suit and shrugging it off his shoulders, muscular arms flexing as he removed the whole thing. Then he came and slumped beside her.
"How you doing, Raphael?" She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes as she lifted the bottle to her lips. His brows were furrowed, his pebbled skin dark and shadowy in the dim light. The ties of the red mask dangled over his shoulder and his wide, large mouth was set. She'd almost gotten used to the way he looked.
He turned towards her and finally smiled. "Real good. What about you, Amber? Hows the dayjob goin'?"
She beamed then, passing him the bottle. "You know, it's great. It really is. Today I held a workshop on safe injecting techniques and a whole bunch of folks showed up, like, six people which is huge, including a couple of newbies. They weren't all street workers either, couple of escorts. Word got out. They were really keen. Knew a lot. We all shared what we knew then had this, like, impromptu discussion on negotiating when a client wants to pay you in gear instead of cash, had a couple of bottles of wine and some food. Yeah, I ate."
Raphael's eyeridges were quirked up, his lips twisted in a funny smile. He was still getting used to this Amber, the Amber who grinned and chatted cheerfully about her day, who wore clothes almost approaching respectability, although they were still taken from the kid's section at the Goodwill. Today it was a tank top emblazoned with the wisdom: "Boys Stink" and a Rainbow Brite skirt. She continued, pulling out another cigarette:
"Real cute boywhore showed up, I'm tellin' you, just beautiful. Hispanic. Beautiful arms. Big, pouty lips. We shared a taste afterwards, had a laugh. He was gorgeous."
He gritted his teeth at that, couldn't help himself. She recited the information matter-of-factly, unaware of his tensing posture, staring out over the river with pinned pupils, head lolling to one side. Abruptly she straightened, turned her gaze to his.
"Saw you were a real hero last night."
He snorted, shrugged. "Thought it was just a regular drug shipment. I coulda been sick when I saw…" The memory of it welled up in him again, the frightened, screaming women… it was too cowardly to beat up on the old man, but it had been close… real close.
She looked down at her knees, hesitated a moment then said: "You know… it's not always what it looks like, you know."
He felt a spark of irritation. "What else was it then?"
She took the bottle back from him, had another swig, shook her head. "I'm gettin' so damn sick of this country's Orientalism."
"You've lost me."
"Never mind. It's good to see you."
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the sturm and drang of the city, watching the water undulate black and silver in the river before them.
His nearness at once unnerved and soothed her. He shifted, leaned back against the cushions and his arm brushed hers. She felt the muscle there and shivered. His presence loomed; it always did, heavy against her. She moved restlessly, uncomfortable with his intensity, and her knee slid against his thigh, his taut and hard against the limp, thin softness of hers. They both froze, stiff and tense on the smelly old sofa on the rooftop twenty stories above the street, concertedly not looking at each other.
She took another drink to mask her discomfort, handed the bottle to him without looking. He took it and, true to the awkwardness of the night thus far, his uncommonly large fingers brushed the back of her hand, the flesh on them smooth, warm and textured, unlike the hand of any man she'd touched before. Just no winning.
"So, uh," his voice came out strained and he cleared his throat before continuing. "You not workin' tonight then?"
She shook her head. "Nope. Thistleways gig is two days a week. I work them, sleep the night inbetween then stay up the whole night on the second day – which was today – so I can sleep during the day tomorrow. Then I'm ready to work by nightfall. " She could be working – but she wanted to hang out with Raphael instead.
"You sleep a night?" Humour had returned to his voice. "Watch out. You'll become a normal person if you're not careful."
She scoffed dismissively. "You'll join me the day it happens, 'Nightwatcher'."
"Hey, I didn't come up with the name. Tell ya the truth, I'd rather have remained nameless – seems more… I dunno… threatenin' somehow. But you know what the media is like." He lifted his hands, palms up and she nodded.
"I know, baby. I know. Drug-addicted prostitutes live lives of degradation and violence! Is there no hope for these desperate women?" She spoke with sardony, flicking her hair back and sneering.
She turned her head to look at him; his gaze was fixed upon her and unexpectedly their eyes locked. She couldn't drag hers away. His eyes were so deep and dark, their colour a rich brown that seemed always to be clouded. No, not that – but darkly smouldering as though lit deep within.
He snapped his gaze away, stood up and strode from her, swinging his arms back and forth. "So uh – hows business been?"
"Brisk. Always is, in summer." She had a chance to examine him now. She'd done it already, so many times, but he never ceased to fascinate her; the hard, bulky muscle of his arms and legs, the scarred, bone-plated armour across his chest, the intricately patterned and also scarred surface of the shell on his back. Plastron. Carapace. He'd told her the words. She formed them with her lips, silently, running her eyes once again over his arms as he lifted one to scratch the back of his neck. They were scarred too. She couldn't quite recall if his brothers hard borne scars like he did. So much of those two weeks had been a blur.
"You must be happy." He hadn't turned to look back at her, his body turned towards the river, his flesh softly illuminated silver in the moonlight. Their conversation tonight was stilted, awkward.
She shrugged, reached for the bottle of liquor again. "Sure makes the night go faster. Plus gear is at the best quality it's been for a while. I been buyin' extra, for when it dries up again." She could see him tensing, his shoulders drawing up just a little. She knew he hated to hear about it, but she didn't give a damn. She wouldn't pretend.
He seemed determined not to face her so she pushed herself off the couch on unsteady arms and ambled over to come around in front of him. He continued to gaze out over her head and she ran her eyes over him again, openly, down to the place where his thighs disappeared into the armour. She wondered, not for the first time, exactly what his secrets were down there. That he was male was inarguable – if it wasn't the voice, deep and brusque, or the shape of the muscle, then the machismo was a dead giveaway. She reached an arm out, fingertips brushing the edge of his shell by his side, turning inwards to stroke just beneath the ridge.
He jumped, violently, taking several steps away from her and looking at her with wild alarm.
"What are you doing?" There was a curious panic in his voice and she felt her heartbeat rise.
"I'm sorry – did I hurt you?" she still wasn't sure of all the rules and anxiously stepped towards him, concerned she'd scratched a sensitive spot. He took another step back, one arm crossing over his plastron to reach around and cover the place she'd touched. Unusually, he was not rageful, but nervous, edgily moving beyond her reach.
"No – no – it just felt – " He turned from her savagely once more and strode back to the discarded Nightwatcher suit. "I'm gonna put this back on. Someone might come up." She knew it wasn't likely but knew also there was no point arguing with him. Too quickly that panic would turn into fury, the way all his emotions did when he didn't understand them. She sidled back to the couch, fumbling in her knapsack for cigarettes as he redressed, covering his reptilian form in the full-body disguise. He lifted the helmet up, hesitated, partly turned away from her. "I better go," he said quietly over his shoulder and she swallowed against the bitter rise of disappointment in her throat. She thought they might have the evening to hang out, but damned if she was going to plead with him. If she was honest with herself, she could've acknowledged how much she wanted to hang out with him that night. Amber was often honest with herself – honest when she needed a fix, honest when she was out for cash however it took, honest that she avoided phoning her parents back in Jersey. But honesty now would be way too distracting, after all these years. It wouldn't serve her and Amber was nothing if not self-serving.
So instead she lit up, drew in and blew out, up towards the sky.
"Yeah, okay baby," her drawl so nonchalant it seemed an effort for the words to leave the cushiony confines of her mouth. "I might work after all. Give me a ride back, be a sweetheart then."
"Prostitution degrades the soul and the body. The prostituted woman's spirit is slowly eroded, day in and day out until she is no more than a shell, a receptacle for the abuse and exploitation of her clients."
The lady who spoke these hard words had wide, slightly crazed eyes, the kind you only find on a fanatic. Her face was drawn downwards around the eyes and mouth, thin lines running like cracks down her features.
I'd been flickin' through the stations idly. It was early mornin', and I was comin' off the adrenalin high of the evenin', too abuzz to contemplate sleep yet. The memory of Amber's strokin' fingers along my shell was still vivid, the recollection of the sensation powerful enough to make me shiver. It kept coming back in flashes, inconveniently as I was smashing someone's face in. As I'd clicked onto this channel, the footage showing was of a New York City street and a couple of street walkers, the camera zooming in on them as they chatted and laughed, cigarettes dangling from their hands, clearly unaware they were bein' recorded.
"The prostituted woman has no way of assessing her degraded state. She is so oppressed she is not even aware that she is oppressed. Drug abuse, mental illness and suicide are common afflictions of the prostituted woman. Often she comes from a background of sexual abuse and violence. Men who use prostituted women are more likely to be sexually violent, aggressive and abusive. They are incapable of viewing the women they exploit as even human."
I was sittin' on the sofa, alone. The rest of the lair was silent; the others all still in bed. It was Friday, our one day of rest and the sleep-in was always taken advantage of, even by Master Splinter. With Ol' Fearless somewhere across the sea, there wasn't even any meditatin' happening. The early morning news was runnin' this story and I was hunched forward, arms resting across my knees, watching the screen intently. The footage cut from this woman – whoever she was – to images of the streets, in bold, stark colour. Nothin' explicit – too early in the day for that – but I'll bet it was shocking enough for middle-class suburban families.
"Project Dignity," the woman was back on. "is an exit program designed for women who wish to escape the horrendous trap of the sex industry. We at Project Dignity understand that prostitution is never a choice and aim to restore dignity and respectable employment and lifestyles to the women who have been so damaged by prostitution. Of course many of these women can never recover fully, due to their awful experiences in prostitution. But with Project Dignity's help, they can begin a normal life."
I yawned, scratched, let out a sigh. I wondered what Amber would have to say about this and the thought made me chuckle. I could just imagine it.
The woman's face became ever more pinched – like she was suckin' on a lemon – as she took another direction.
"But even worse than a woman becoming a prostitute to support a drug habit or because of the countless years of abuse she suffered, is for a woman to be forced into it without her knowledge. Here in America we are seeing an alarming rise in the number of women smuggled into the country to be sold into sex slavery."
The screen flickered and the footage changed again, this time panning over the faces of pale, anxious looking Asian women, clustered together in a big bare room. They reminded me of the women the other night and I sat up straight again, leaning even further forward.
"Asian women are the most popular, as they are so small and docile and are easily tricked into believing they are coming to America to work in hospitality. Once here, their passports are taken, all personal items are confiscated and they are locked into a brothel to work countless hours, seven days a week. They are not permitted to go outside or to have any contact with their families. They are kept in a state of undress and chained to their beds. They are made to have sex with man after man, often forced to complete gross, degrading sexual acts without condoms. Sometimes they will see as many as fifteen men in a night! After that many clients, your mind breaks down, your body breaks down, you lose your dignity and your self-worth."
I felt anger burbling deep in my chest, a spark ignited and slowly rising, rushing along my blood stream and lighting blossoming branches of veins, rising up high and higher until it reached my throat, raced upwards, bursting into flame somewhere behind my eyes.
The camera angle changed, now on a little Asian girl crying, her face in her hands.
"This girl thought she would start a new life in America and be able to bring her family over to join her. Imagine her shock and horror when she arrived only to be beaten, raped and forced into sexual slavery. She is just one of the many such women that Project Dignity have rescued."
Once again the footage switched, now the camera bobbed up and down violently, as though the operator were running, following a group of hooded people brandishing planks of wood, rushing through a small, dark corridor and bursting into a tiny, dim-lit room to the alarmed shrieks and screams of the room's occupants. I could see they were Asian women, half-dressed and terrified. The hooded people grabbed them, tore back out of the room and down the corridor, followed all the while by the jerking camera. The woman's voice continued over the top:
"Project Dignity has staged many such rescues. As a team we storm the underground brothels, grabbing the women and retreating before the pimps have time to realise what we do. After that we bring the women back to our headquarters where they are bathed and fed and offered free counselling."
Once again the camera panned over that large bare room and the shocked, frightened faces of the Asian girls, numbly holding mugs in their hands and blinking confusedly at the camera, some clinging to each other's hands and talking hysterically in their language, the sounds of it a garbled stream of nonsense to my ears.
"After that we train them in skills that will be of use to them back in their home countries, such as basket weaving, sewing, cleaning and cooking. This way they can return home with skills that will enable them to be properly employed."
The woman's face appeared again, huge and filling the screen. One of her front teeth was chipped. Her hair was slate grey and cut in a choppy, unflattering style. I watched, utterly still and fixated, my hands balled into fists and my teeth clenched.
"Please – if you see or suspect there may be a sex slave operation happening in your neighbourhood – phone us to report it. Help save these women and give them back their lives."
The camera stayed fixed on the lady's face a moment longer as she pressed her lips tightly together, then flashed to a screen displaying the number and address of their New York branch. My eyes flickered across it, barely registering, before I suddenly relaxed with a hiss, my fists loosening, my hands feeling cramped from the depth of tension I'd held. My jaw unlocked, and I rolled its hinges, thrusting the remote towards the TV and jamming the power button savagely to turn the damn thing off.
Again the faces of those women flashed behind my eyes and I felt a surge through my body, wishin' I had beaten that old guy's face in after all. But he was the least of my worries. Someone was askin' for these women to be delivered into NYC. Someone was providin' the cash to the importers. Someone was takin' these women's freedom and dignity away. Someone was at the head of this sick, revoltin' game.
And I was gonna find out who.