Holy cow... I'm hoping by pushing through I've broken this writer's block. Maybe my new chibi-turtle socks had something to do with it, but here it is. Leo needs to be pushed just a little bit higher up Mount Ego before I send him tumbling down, please bear with me. And if anyone is still reading this, thank-you for your patience.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles belong to Viacom. Nothing belongs to me except three nagging cats and a desire to be famous.
Stalking the Green-Eyed Monster
Sun Tzu says:
60. Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy's purpose.
61. By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank, we shall succeed
in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief.
62. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Earlier… way earlier:
While the director and the "star" continued their near-fight, Joe ventured several yards into the side tunnel, tuning out the echoing shouts behind him, straining eyes and ears to catch something other than these noisy people.
Normal underground sounds began to be more noticeable- dripping, strange random clanks and rattlings- subway must be nearby; he could somehow tell when a train was passing-
The further he ventured, the more the sounds seemed to intensify, including this strange, rhythmic thumping accompanied by a rapid, intermittent whistle.
Then he realized his heart was pounding, and his breathing was rather intense, and he forced himself to calm down.
Focusing on the floor in front of him and the walls around him, he thought he could tell that someone or something had been through here. It just looked... disturbed somehow.
And then something illuminated in the searching beam of his light caught his attention. Drawn to it like his wife to an open candy box, Joe followed the beam to a small, shiny key.
Lying on top of the usual sewer filth, the key stuck out like Tony Curtis's accent in "The Prince Who Was a Thief", a twinkling star amidst the sludge.
Joe picked it up. It looked like it came from one of those toys that you wind up, or a clock...
Yes, a clock! That was a clock alarm they'd heard, right? So this little green creature was carrying a wind-up clock, and while it was escaping, it accidentally dropped this key!
Ignoring the nagging question in his mind about why a green frog creature would even need an alarm clock, Joseph Anthony Moschella cheerfully turned back to fetch the others.
This would stop their fighting.
Hell, this might even make HIM the star of his OWN show!
Dan Wilder and his director stared at what they had—namely a child's toy handcuffs and a shiny shiny key.
"Too bad the key doesn't go with the handcuffs," Dan mused. "That would really tie this together."
The director ignored him, as usual. He and Joseph Anthony Moschella were busy making plans on a map, while Dan kept making audio notes on his shiny new iPhone (having dropped the other somewhere between the appearance of the giant albino man-eating crocodile and the end of the tunnel that led to their death-defying escape from the giant albino man-eating crocodile).
"I still think it's a stretch," mused the director, even as he made notes about what they'd be taking with them. "I'd rather we had more concrete proof than this key."
"Still," Joe pointed out, "we all heard that alarm clock—SOMEONE was down there, and as far as I know, it wasn't that croc—what croc ever had a clock?"
"The one that ate Capt. Hook's hand," Dan eagerly replied, and he bowed to the invisible audience in his head who were enthusiastically cheering him for his Wit.
"So, our best bet is to reenter where we came out," the director went on without skipping a beat, "and we take Animal Control with us just in case…"
"Uh, I don't think we can get them ta come with us," Joe replied. "They ain't exactly eager ta go any further than the bottom of the ladder."
"I'll get someone to come along, no worries," the director waved a dismissive hand. "Money talks, as well as fame, and besides, I know a guy who can, in a pinch, shoot a tranquilizer dart gun as easily as a high-powered rifle."
"OH! Note to self—get several shots of me holding weapon," Dan enthusiastically breathed into his iPhone.
"You aren't even to LOOK at that weapon," the director sternly warned him.
"How many times have I got to say 'I'm sorry'? Besides, I barely grazed you."
"I've been on three different tranquilizers as well as blood pressure meds since that little incident, and don't you forget it!"
"So, when are we goin' back in?" Joe asked. He was eager to do this. He was gonna help prove to the world and his co-workers that Joseph Anthony Moschella was not crazy from working too long underground. He had seen what he'd seen, and heard what he'd heard, and soon they would all know that Something—or Someone—was living under the City of New York—and HE would be the one to say "I told you so!" on national TV.
One would think that having lied so boldly to one's own Sensei and Father one would have been plagued with guilt-ridden dreams about Honor and Honesty and Doing the Right Thing as (Future) Leaders should….
One would think—unless that one was Leonardo, who was now an "adult" compared to his brothers.
The (future) leader rolled out of bed early with a plan of action already formed. He knew Raph better than Raph knew himself, and as for Don, he was confident that he could run rings around the boy with Logic.
So, as he washed up in the bathroom and listened to the litany of things Raph was plannin' ta do ta him in the dojo for lyin' ta Splinter and sayin' that he and Don was the ones outside when allatime it was Lyin' Leonardo who was lyin' and outside and lyin' about it all, he smiled an adult smile and sighed an indulgent sigh at his hot-headed and not too bright brother.
"Good-morning, Sensei," Leonardo bowed upon entering the kitchen, where Mike was humming a cheerful tune as he set the table for breakfast. "I trust you slept well."
Splinter cocked the briefest of eyebrows at this unusual greeting, but returned his "good-morning, my son."
Leo carefully straightened a few utensils that Mike hadn't laid out quite right, and then cast a critical eye at the glassware. Picking up his own, he tsk-tsked, shaking his head at the water spots even as he went to the sink to rewash it and carefully dry it until it looked spotless. Maybe it was time to have a little chat with his brothers about the proper way to do the dishes…
"What are you doing?" Mike asked, bemused. "That glass is clean as a whistle. I know, I'm the one who washed it."
Leo gave Mike a patronizing smile and a pat on the head.
"I'm sure you tried your best, Michelangelo."
"Are ya ready ta come clean with Sensei?" Raph asked as he plopped into his chair, glaring his best "I'm gonna kick yer ass if it's the last thing I do" glare at Fearless Leader, "or are ya gonna drag this out until I have ta beat it out of ya?"
"Raphael, enough," Splinter said, and breakfast was underway.
Leo watched, slightly bemused, at the way Raph was eating his cereal—stabbing his spoon into the bowl full of milk and delicious munchy crunch chocolately Cocoa Puffs©®™, shoveling it into his mouth, and chewing it as if he were dining on Leonardo's shell instead of what drove Sonny cuckoo, all the time leaving an ever-growing trailing mess of stray cereal and milk from bowl to mouth and back again.
Leo shook his head and calmly ate his own breakfast, knowing that Raph's eyes were still fixed upon him.
"Raphael, please clean up that mess," Splinter said.
Leonardo carefully spooned the last drop of chocolatey milk from his bowl, doing his best to ignore the noisy slurping of his brothers who finished up as usual by picking up theirs and draining them directly into their mouths. Children. Really, someone needs to take them in hand and teach them proper table manners….
The rest of the morning went as usual. Raph and Don were to wash up the breakfast plates while Leo and Mike went to make the beds. Then it was training time.
"Sensei, when may I have my super-secret notebook back?" Mike anxiously asked for the eleventy-seventh time this morning. "I'm way behind on my super-secret for my eyes only project!"
Splinter looked at Michelangelo, unaware that there were two turtles hanging on his every word.
"I will return it to you tomorrow morning," he replied. "Not one minute sooner. And if I am asked one more time, I will not return it at all."
"Hear that?" Little Angel Turtle whispered. "You've got to get that paper back into that book before tomorrow morning. You don't want them to find out you took it, do you? Time's running out!"
"Way I see it," Little Devil Turtle slowly chimed in, "if ya play yer cards right, he'll NEVER get the book back, and you can practice that kata to yer heart's content."
"Leo? How come you're standing there like a statue?" Mike's voice cut through his sudden daydream of fixing it so Mike never got that stupid notebook back thereby ruining his chances of ever dreaming of taking Leonardo's place as (future) leader, and then Leo would master the Most Difficult Kata of All Katas and proving to the World that he, Leonardo, was Destined to be the Greatest Leader of all the Great Leaders of Ninja Turtles.
"Huh? Oh, nothing. Nothing. Just thinking about how I'm going to have to teach Raphael a lesson in the dojo today, that's all," he smugly lied as he carefully went to work making his own bed first.
He moved the bunk away from the wall so he could work both sides, stripping his bed so he could start from scratch. Standing at the foot of the bed, he spread the bottom sheet evenly until it was perfectly squared, then deftly made hospital corners.
"Why not used the fitted sheets Sensei got us?" Mike asked and then answered in unison with Leo, "Because this is the correct way to make a bed."
Leo added the top sheet and blanket, working diligently to align the top of the blanket and the sheet as much as he could, then once again making hospital corners at the bottom, then folding the top of the blanket and sheet over about four inches, then again, making sure he'd left eighteen inches from the head of the mattress to the fold before tucking it in all around and smoothing out the wrinkles (of which there were none, naturally).
Leonardo carefully replaced his pillow at the top, and then attempted to bounce a quarter off the bed.
"Come on," Mike scoffed as he carelessly shoved his sheets and blankets back under the mattress, leaving it looking as if someone was still sleeping in the bed before moving on to Don's. "I'll be done and in the dojo before you."
"So?" Leo responded coolly as he attempted to untangle the various sheets, blankets and comforters that Raphael loved to cocoon himself in, all the while marveling at the stuff hidden in all the folds—toy motorcycle, comic book, practice sai (!), half-empty bag of Oreos™®© (!), picture of a girl in a swimsuit being chased by the Creature from the Black Lagoon—okay, that has to be put in the trash, and Splinter is so gonna hear about that one—and finally Raph's bed was made, though not as good as Leo's because, really, it's Raph's bed and besides he didn't share the Oreos©®™ with the rest of them.
"So," Mike countered, "the more I practice, the better my chances."
"At what? Of beating Don?"
"No. At besting you. See you in the dojo, Fearless not yet the Leader," and Mike, as if he'd known what Leo'd been thinking, vanished from the room before Leo could reply with a witty retort.
"Oh, yeah," Little Devil Turtle mused, "if ya play yer cards right…."
In the dojo, Leo stood facing Raph. The angry turtle was huffing and puffing, and had worked hard to do his best to take out Leo, but his anger seemed to have gotten in the way.
Leo carefully kept the smile from his face. He knew exactly how to fight Raph when he was in this mood. It was like Sun Tzu said: Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy's purpose.
Well Leo had certainly accommodated himself to Raph's purpose—and he'd won.
Victory was sweet.
"Ready to take back what you said about my lying?" Leo couldn't help asking, and then easily side-stepped the sudden lunge of a blood-thirsty brother. With a casual flip and sweep of the leg, he dropped Raph onto his shell, and stood above him, making sure to look him in the eye.
"Enough," Splinter said, and both brothers returned to kneeling positions.
Splinter had been observing Leonardo the entire morning. He knew something was not right, but he found it hard to believe that Leonardo had begun to lie to him, and lie so boldly.
Splinter trusted his nose when it came to keeping them all safe, and his nose had told him that someone had been out of the lair yesterday, and not just outside the door, but in the tunnels.
Still, it was possible, he admitted to himself, that it could have been an old scent, and his anxiousness from knowing there were surface dwellers roaming around nearby might have caused him to believe that one of his sons might have decided to disobey him.
Splinter looked at the still angry Raphael. The boy was adamant that he and his brother had not gone any farther than they had when Leonardo had called them back in.
"I still say you wasn't hidin'," he muttered, angry eyes on the floor. "Me and Don looked everywhere!"
Leonardo calmly drew in breath.
"Did you look in Splinter's closet?" he heard himself ask, ignoring the gasps from Don and Mike—Everyone knew that closet was Off Limits under pain of a gazillion flips!
"You wasn't in there," Raph scoffed. "The Mighty Leonardo would never go in Splinter's room without permission."
"True," Leo admitted, nodding wisely. "But then, you really can't say you looked everywhere, if you didn't look there."
"You know what I mean by 'everywhere', Leo!"
"And we looked everywhere," Don chimed in, and Splinter noticed that his son looked ready to take up the fight where Raphael had left off.
"Did you look under the towels in the bathroom?"
"Nice try, but those were in the wash," Don countered. Leo merely smiled.
"But you did search the cupboard in the bathroom, naturally."
"And the dojo closet where we keep the training supplies."
"Again, Leo, naturally!"
"Kitchen supply closet."
"Cupboard under the sink."
"Very last kitchen cupboard in the corner of the kitchen just by the stove where it's all dark and hard to get into?"
"You'd never fit."
"I would if I removed the two shelves. After all, nothing is stored in there."
Don shook his head.
"You can't. I've tried."
"When did you need to try that?" Splinter asked.
"When I was trying to find a place to store my inventions so Mike couldn't find them. There's no place in this whole lair where Leo could have hidden."
"Did you look in the hallway by the front door?"
"Doofus, we were IN the hallway and there's no place ta hide 'cept the closet, and you wasn't in the closet!" Raph burst out.
"Did you look up?"
Silence as they tried to figure that one out. Leo waited.
"Why would we look up?" Don finally asked.
"Are you tryin' ta say you was on the ceiling?" Raph didn't know whether to laugh or risk a punishment by belting Leo right in the mouth.
"I'm not trying to say anything except you insist you looked everywhere, and evidently you did not."
And Adult Leo sat back, basking in self-congratulations at having bested Don and Raph.
"Were you on the ceiling?" Splinter's question was simple, and Leo felt the rat's gaze more than he felt the need to gloat.
"Sensei, if I answer either 'yes' or 'no', I lose the advantage. Like Sun Tzu says, 'This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning'."
And Leonardo, Master Ninja, bowed with great respect to his Sensei and Father.
Splinter merely said, "Hmmmmm….."