Sorry to Eat and Run

The Wizard/The Master

Susan M. M.

"I never knew you had a daughter," Simon said.

"Neither did I, until last year." McAllister took another bite of meat and potato. He chewed slowly, giving himself time to think. "I got a letter several months ago from the daughter of an old girlfriend. She said she was my daughter, and she said she was in trouble. I came to the States to look for her. But every time I think I've found her, the trail disappears. She's on the run from something – or someone – but I don't know who or what."

Simon traded looks with Alex. Alex nodded.

"We might be able to help you with that," Simon offered. "I'm good with computers, and Alex has access to quite a variety of resources."

"I'd appreciate that. Goodness knows we're having no luck on our own."

"What do you know about her?" Tillie asked.

"She's a brunette, very pretty," McAllister began.

"A model," Max piped up.

"She's flown airplanes in competitions under the name of Teri McAllister. She used the same name for her modeling jobs. I don't know if she's always used my name, or if she's using it as an alias. You might also try Teri Kennedy - that was her mother's last name. And she was born just after the Korean War ended. Other than that," McAllister took a deep breath, "she must have been very good at playing hide and seek when she was little."

Simon took one look at McAllister's face and changed the subject, asking about a mutual acquaintance in Japan. From there the conversation turned to the Orient in general, and various places around the world. All five of them were well traveled, and as none of them bothered with five-star hotels, they had some good stories to share.

The Wizard/The Master ~~ The Wizard/The Master

Matsuo Yoshida crouched in the bushes near the power transformer on Elm Street. A bit of a black silk shirt peeked out from beneath the power company uniform he wore. "This is overkill," he complained in Japanese. "All this for one man."

"Killing the power for the whole block will knock out his security system. If we only cut the wires to his house, he would be suspicious when he saw lights on at the other houses," replied his partner, Shiro Nakanishi. He, too, wore a power company uniform.

"But two of us to get one man?" Yoshida persisted. "Either of us could handle this assignment on our own."

Nakanishi shrugged. "Troyan is paying us well."

The Wizard/The Master ~~ The Wizard/The Master

"Why don't we go into the living room for pie and coffee?" Tillie suggested. They'd been sitting in front of the empty plates, still talking, for ten minutes.

"What sort of pie?" Max and Simon asked simultaneously. McAllister and Alex shared an amused look at their friends' sweet teeth.

"Rhubarb," Tillie said.

"I haven't had rhubarb pie in years," McAllister told her.

"Then you're in for a treat," Simon informed him. "Tillie's the best baker in the northern hemisphere."

Tillie waved her hand at him in an 'oh, get along with you' gesture.

"Rhubarb or rhubarb-strawberry?" Max wanted clarification.

"Just plain rhubarb."

"That's the way I like it best. My mother used to bake rhubarb pie when I was little," Max remembered, "but my aunt always baked rhubarb-strawberry. She claimed it wasn't as soupy." He shrugged. "It wasn't, but Mom's plain rhubarb always tasted better than Aunt Betty's rhubarb-strawberry."

As Tillie went into the kitchen, Simon led the way into the living room. "One of my favorite childhood memories from England was eating rhubarb in the spring. One of our neighbors had a garden where she grew it, and every year we'd take the fresh rhubarb – sometimes still with a bit of dirt on it – dip it in sugar to counteract the tartness, and eat it raw." He sat on the couch, and McAllister sat next to him.

Max headed for the rocking chair next to the couch, but Alex shook his head. "Reserved?" the younger man asked.

Alex nodded. "Tillie's chair."

There were two overstuffed chairs opposite the coffee table. Alex took the one that gave him a clear view of the front door. Max took the other. The room was comfortably cluttered: pictures on the wall, toys on the floor, two potted plants, and several books and gizmos on the coffee table. The afghan that hung over the back of the couch looked like it was handmade.

"Your daughter," Alex asked. "Where have you looked? What have you been able to find?"

McAllister began describing their search, how they'd looked in California, Louisiana, New York, and other states, attempting to follow her trail.

Tillie came in halfway through his description with the coffee and pie. She poured out the drinks silently, not wanting to interrupt. However, she couldn't help noticing that several times McAllister interrupted himself, and appeared to change what he'd been about to say. Tillie, Alex, and Simon traded glances. All three were as curious as cats, and couldn't help wondering what it was he wasn't saying when he kept editing himself.

When McAllister paused for breath, Max complimented her on the pie. "This is delicious. Simon wasn't kidding about you being the best baker in the northern hemisphere."

"Thank you," Tillie started to say. Just then everything went dark.

"The power's out." Max had a gift for stating the obvious.

Alex walked to the window and peeked out. "Looks like the whole neighborhood's out."

"It's all right. The emergency generator should come on any second," Simon said.

"Emergency generator?" McAllister repeated. He looked up suddenly. He thought he'd heard a noise in the kitchen, like a door opening.

"I have experiments sometimes that it would be … inconvenient to have interrupted," Simon explained.

Moving silently as shadows, two men came through the kitchen into the living room. Their footsteps too light to tear rice paper, too light to be heard, they came to where the others were gathered.

Had the power stayed out, Yoshida and Nakanishi would have been nearly invisible in their traditional ninja garb. But when the emergency generator clicked on, their black outfits were exceedingly conspicuous as they stepped into the living room.

Yoshida lunged at Alex. The CIC agent reached for his gun. Nakanishi started to dive at McKay, then recognized McAllister.

"Meijin! Is he your contract?"

"He is my friend. And my host – we were just having dessert when you interrupted," McAllister replied in an annoyed tone of voice. After four decades in Japan, he had picked up the Japanese attitudes toward hospitality, and the importance of the relationship between guest and host.

"Simon, run," Alex ordered.

"Okasa says McAllister-san is no longer one of us," Yoshida reminded his partner. "Prepare to die, old man."

"I have been prepared for death since before you were born," McAllister's voice was icy. He kicked Yoshida, knocking him out of the way of Alex's bullet.

Max tried blocking Nakanishi from Simon, hitting him with a karate chop. Nakanishi shrugged off the blow. He grabbed Max and threw him over his shoulder.

Simon grabbed a remote control from the coffee table. Seconds later, a toy motorcycle raced from a corner of the room. It struck Nakanishi's ankle.

Tillie took her cup of coffee and threw it into Nakanishi's face.

Max lay face down on the floor. He reached over, grabbed Nakanishi, and pulled him to the floor with him. The two grappled, twisting and writhing like snakes. Meanwhile, McAllister and Yoshida fought. Alex aimed, waiting for a clear shot.

"Simon, run," Alex repeated.

Simon had no intention of running. He aimed the remote control again, sending the motorcycle into a flip, and up against Yoshida's stomach. The attack distracted the ninja, though only slightly, and what should have been a killing blow against McAllister went awry.

Tillie picked up the potted fern from the window sill and brought it down on Nakanishi's head.

McAllister kicked Yoshida to the floor. Then he grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to his knees. "It is not good to bother an old man when he is trying to drink coffee and eat pie. You of all people should know I'm a crotchety old man, especially when my meals are interrupted."

"Hai, meijin." Recognizing himself as beaten, Yoshida stopped struggling.

"Either of you move, I'll put a bullet in you," Alex warned. "Tillie, go get something to tie them up with."

Tillie nodded and hurried from the room.

"Who are they?" Alex asked McAllister. "They obviously know you."

McAllister shook his head. "I can't give you that information."

"Can't? They just tried to kill us all," Alex pointed out.

Simon shook his head. "Kill you four. They wanted me alive, I'm afraid."

Alex accused, "I thought Simon was your friend."

McAllister indicated Nakanishi with a jut of his chin. "His father is my friend, too." He paused a moment before continuing. "I'll tell you this much. You have an enemy with deep pockets, one willing to spend freely to see you dead or captured."

"Troyan," Simon muttered the name under his breath. His nemesis would gladly spend his last cent on revenge. Years ago, Simon had stopped Troyan from sabotaging a top secret satellite. Troyan had been caught in the death-trap he'd meant for Simon. Although he'd survived, he'd blamed the toymaker for his painful disfiguration.

"Who'd want to kidnap a toymaker? Milton Bradley?" Max asked.

In a small, quiet voice, Simon replied, "I wasn't always a toymaker."

McAllister warned, "They'll die before they tell you who hired them."

Tillie returned with some computer cable and duct tape. Conversation lapsed as she and Max bound the ninjas. Alex kept them covered during the tying up process.

"You seem to know an awful lot about them. I think we need to talk," Alex suggested pointedly, looking at McAllister with suspicion in his hazel eyes.

McAllister shook his head. "Under the circumstances, I think it's best Max and I move on."

"Not until you answer some questions," Alex insisted. "My superiors at CIC will be very interested in you."

McAllister stepped over to Alex. He grabbed his wrist, squeezing against a pressure point. The gun fell from Alex's limp fingers. "I can not answer your questions. Max, grab your jacket."

"Hei, meijin," Max replied in badly accented Japanese.

Yoshida said, "Okasa said you had betrayed us, that you would betray us again, but you tell them nothing, even though he is your friend."

"Okasa has been wrong before, and doubtless will be wrong again. I never betrayed our order." He turned to Tillie and kissed her hand again. "Sorry to eat and run. Dinner was delicious. Simon …" There was nothing he could say under the circumstances. "It was good to see you again. I'm sorry our visit had to end this way." He headed for the door, and Max followed.

Alex turned to Simon. "Who was that masked man, Kemo Sabe?"

"I think," Tillie said slowly, "that your friend is a ninja."

"John? He couldn't be," Simon protested.

Tillie's gaze fell pointedly on the prisoners. "How much Japanese did you pick up when you were working with Yamaguchi?"

"Enough to ask directions to the bathroom and order dinner at a restaurant," the toymaker admitted.

"They called him 'meijin'," Tillie said.

"I learned that word at the chess club. It means 'champion'."

"That's one translation," Tillie agreed. "It also means 'master.' My Japanese is too rusty to have caught everything they said, but they were arguing over whether John was one of them or not, whether John had betrayed them or not. And if they're not ninjas," she pointed to the two black-clad prisoners, "I'll eat my hat."

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Tillie Russell's Shepherd Pie Recipe

1 lb. ground beef

1 small can mixed vegetables

6 servings of instant mashed potatoes

8 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese

Brown the ground beef. Drain excess grease.

Make six servings of instant mashed potatoes according to the package's directions.

Place the ground beef in a pie pan.

Drain the vegetables and spread them over the beef.

Cover the vegetables with the mashed potatoes; spread evenly.

Sprinkle the cheese over the potatoes.

(Optional) mix half the cheese into the potatoes, and save half to go on top.

Bake at 325 F for twenty minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden.

Let cool slightly before serving.