Chapter 1: Old Friends
Sorry to Eat and Run
Standard Fanfic Disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law. These aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, uh, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. They will be returned (relatively) undamaged to their original owners. No financial profit was, has been, or will be made off this story. It is a purely amateur work of fiction, originally published in the fanzine Of Dreams and Schemes #24. To help readers to visualize the characters, Alex Jagger was played by Doug Barr, Simon McKay by David Rappaport, Tillie Russell by Fran Russell, John McAllister by Lee Van Cleef, and Max Keller by Tim Van Patten.
Sorry to Eat and Run
The Wizard/The Master
by Susan M. M.
Southern California, 1986
"We could have sent Tillie with a shopping list," Alex Jagger repeated. The CIC agent was a muscular, brown-haired man in his late twenties. His eyes continually scanned the drugstore, as if every customer at Long's was a potential threat.
"Alex, you can't wrap me up in cotton wool and stick me in a box on the top shelf of the closet to keep me safe," complained Dr. Simon McKay. He spoke with a slight British accent. "Troyan does not spend every waking minute plotting ways to get me."
Several customers turned to stare, then tried not to look as if they were staring. The mismatched pair did attract attention. Alex was tall, dark, and handsome. He wore a beige sports jacket to cover his Smith & Wesson. Simon was 3'11''. His sartorial preferences were eccentric, to say the least: red sneakers, green and yellow striped pants, and a royal blue shirt. A gray newsboy's cap covered unkempt red hair.
"Don't be so sure of that," Alex muttered. "And he's not the only one who'd like to get his hands on you. The Soviet Union, East Germany, Red China, even some of our own sunglasses and dark suits guys. Not all federal agents are ethical," Alex admitted.
Not everyone at the Pentagon had been sanguine about Simon's crisis of conscience; not everyone had accepted his right to give up a career as a weapons analyst and become a toymaker. Alex was more worried about a Black Ops unit of the SIA or the IADC abducting Simon than he was the KGB. Or possibly MI-6 – what if someone in Merrie Olde Englande thought Simon should be using his genius for queen and country, despite the fact he was a naturalized U. S. citizen?
"You left out Parker Brothers," Simon countered. "I'm more of a threat to Mattel than I am to Moscow. You worry too much." Suddenly, he turned his head; someone at the far end of the aisle caught his eye. "John? John McAllister?"
Alex's gaze followed. He'd seen the white-haired man a few minutes before, and dismissed him as harmless. A younger man stood beside him now, his grandson, perhaps, Alex guessed. The CIC agent gave the curly-haired man an automatic, instant profiling: brown hair, brown eyes, slightly shorter than the old man, perhaps 5'10" or 5'11", slim, wiry build, probably 170-180 pounds. Surfer dude. Not likely to be a threat unless Simon decided to sunbathe at the beach where this guy wanted to park his board.
Both men looked to see who called. The younger man's eyes widened at the sight of the Little Person in the loud clothes. There was a surprised expression on the old man's face for a moment, then his blue eyes shone with delight.
The inventor and the white-haired man walked toward each other. Their companions followed.
Simon extended his hand. McAllister reached down to shake it. "What are you doing in California? I thought you were permanently settled in Japan?"
"Family business," McAllister replied.
"John, this is my friend, Alex Jagger. Alex, John McAllister," Simon introduced them. He turned to the curly-haired man. "Simon McKay. And you're?"
"Hi, I'm Max Keller. You two know each other from Japan?"
Alex's hazel eyes lit up. Another piece of the puzzle. The reason the government insisted on a live-in bodyguard for Simon was because after he'd quit working for the Pentagon, he'd disappeared. For six years, no one – not the CIA, not MI-6, not the KGB – had seen hide nor hair of him. Then one day he'd simply reappeared in southern California, set up shop as a toymaker, and refused to say a word as to where he had been. The government didn't want that to happen again.
"Every Tuesday at the Tokyo Chess Club," McAllister explained. "I seldom enjoyed being defeated more."
"You mean there's someone who can beat you at chess?" Max asked disbelievingly.
"You gave me a good fight every time," Simon acknowledged. "Are you in town long? Do you have time to visit and catch up on old times?"
"C'mon, John, it's been what, four years? Five? Come to my place for dinner," Simon urged.
"Home cooking?" Max spoke up. On the road they lived on a steady diet of fast food and sandwiches. Home cooking would be a welcome change. He asked McAllister, "How often do you run into a friend from the old country? We can spare a few hours from our search for a chance for you to visit."
"And a chance for you to fill those hollow legs of yours." McAllister's brusque tone didn't hide his obvious affection for the young man. "All right, Simon, you've twisted my arm. We'd be happy to join you for dinner."
"Great! Let me just call Tillie, make sure whatever she's got planned for tonight will stretch for five."
One snow-white eyebrow rose in inquiry. "Tillie? Is there a Mrs. McKay now?"
"No, haven't found the right girl yet. Tillie's my housekeeper." Simon reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out something plastic and rectangular.
Max stared curiously at the object. "Is that a mobile phone? I've never seen one that small before." It was smaller than the average paperback book, only six inches long, and just over four inches wide. It was no thicker than a deck of cards.
"My own design," Simon admitted modestly.
"Simon's a bit of a tinkerer," McAllister added.
"Toys, mostly. But this is no toy. If this prototype can be mass-produced economically enough, everyone could afford a pocket phone. Imagine being able to call an ambulance from the site of an accident. It could save countless lives," he predicted.
"Imagine every teenage girl with one surgically grafted to her ear. It could annoy countless parents," Alex retorted.
"I doubt they could be mass-produced cheaply enough for every teenybopper to afford one," Simon scoffed. "Let me call Tillie."
McAllister caught Alex's eye, then glanced a few feet down the aisle. Taking the hint, Alex stepped back a pace or two. McAllister followed.
"Plainclothes detective?" McAllister asked quietly.
"No," Alex replied, after a second's hesitation. "Why do you ask?"
"You're carrying," McAllister replied.
Alex hesitated a moment before admitting, "I'm a federal agent."
McAllister glanced at the Little Person, then back at Alex. "Dr. McKay's made more than toys."
Alex nodded, glad no further explanations were necessary. Without a word, both returned to Simon and Max.
Simon turned off the phone and slipped it back into his pocket. "Tillie's making shepherd's pie for dinner, but she says she'll toss a salad to go with, so there's enough to go around. Is that all right with everyone?"
"Sounds fine," Max agreed.
McAllister and Max talked a few minutes more. Simon wrote down his address and directions to his house, in case they were separated by traffic when following him home. All four paid for their purchases.
Not until they were in the parking lot, climbing into his black van, did Max turn to McAllister and ask, "What's shepherd's pie?"
The Wizard/The Master ~~ The Wizard/The Master
Simon met McAllister and Max at the door and eagerly ushered them in. "Come in, come in. I was afraid we lost you when that truck pulled in between us. Tillie's got everything ready."
A woman in her fifties stepped into the living room. Heavy-set, but not fat, her face showed years of living, much of it hard, but by the volume of laugh lines, not all. Like her employer, she was a redhead. Her hair was not yet touched by gray, being more of a carroty orange than Simon's hair, which was somewhere between chestnut and auburn.
"Tillie, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine, John McAllister, and his friend Max Keller," Simon introduced. "Tillie Russell, one of my oldest and dearest friends."
"For longer than either one of us cares to admit to," Tillie joked. She reached out her hand to shake McAllister's. "Any friend of Simon's is a friend of mine."
McAllister took her hand in his, but instead of shaking it, raised it to his lips. "I was just about to say the same thing."
Max glanced at the stunned – but pleased – expression on Tillie's weathered face. He gave a wry half-grin. He was used to his master's effect on the fairer sex, but the old man's charisma still left him amazed … and occasionally envious. "If I tried to get away with that, I'd look like a dork. But you …." Shaking his head ruefully, he shook Tillie's hand. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Russell."
"Oh, just call me Tillie, everyone does." After one more flustered glance at McAllister, she continued, "Bathroom's that way, first door on the left, if you want to wash up before dinner."
The Wizard/The Master ~~ The Wizard/The Master
The salad was crisp and tasty: iceberg, romaine, and buttercrunch lettuce, mixed with spinach leaves, tomato wedges, and little coins of carrot and cucumbers.
"Got French, ranch, and Italian." Tillie pointed at the bottles of dressing on the table. "Help yourself to whichever you prefer." She turned to face McAllister. "So, you met my old shipmate in Japan?"
"I was working with Yamaguchi Toys at the time," Simon explained. "John and I met at the Tokyo Chess Club."
"You were shipmates?" Max peered at Simon, who was far too short for the navy. "Did you meet on a cruise?"
Tillie and Simon both laughed. "Me? A cruise ship passenger? Oh, no, I was ship's cook on the freighter where Simon was cabin boy," she said.
"I've known Tillie since I was eight," Simon added. "She was a second mother."
"I thought ships stopped having cabin boys a hundred years ago." Max poured a generous helping of dressing onto his salad.
"When my parents realized I was never going to grow big, they decided I'd need to grow up, and fast. So they apprenticed me onto a tramp freighter when I was seven. When the other kids were going down slides and kicking a ball, I was sailing from Liverpool to Singapore, fetching and carrying every mile of the way." Simon saw the disapproving expression on Tillie's face, and the surprised one on Max's. He gave a mental shrug. He'd long been familiar with Tillie's opinion of his parents' decision. It was a long time ago, and they'd meant well. "Anyhow, that's probably why I became a toymaker."
Max's left eyebrow rose. He didn't see the connection.
Alex took pity on his obvious confusion. "When it comes to childhood, Simon's theory is 'better late than never'."
"What about you, Mr. McAllister?" Alex asked. "What were you doing at the Tokyo Chess Club?"
"Playing chess," McAllister quipped, his blue eyes twinkling mischievously
"Surely you didn't go to Japan just to play chess," Alex persisted. "Were you a journalist, an exporter, a diplomat, a missionary, what?"
"A pilot. I went to Japan in WWII, as part of the Army Air Corps. Until last year, I never got around to leaving."
"An American pilot couldn't have been too welcome in Japan in the Forties," Tillie guessed.
"Nope, not at first," McAllister admitted ruefully. "But I supported myself by giving English lessons, and I studied the language, the history, the culture. Eventually, they got used to me. I've lived there so long that now I dream in Japanese at night."
"I thought you taught martial arts?" Simon speared a tomato wedge with his fork.
"I started studying martial arts as part of studying the culture. After a few years, I found I was teaching martial arts as much as I was learning, and the English lessons were dwindling down to a very minor sideline."
"Oh? What sort of martial arts? Karate? Judo? What?" Alex asked.
"A little of everything." McAllister shot a warning glance at Max to keep his mouth shut. Simon and his friends – especially his federal agent friend – didn't need to know that McAllister was a ninja. "That was delicious, Tillie."
"Glad you liked it. Everybody 'bout done with salad and ready for the main course?" She turned from one man to another; they all nodded. She went to the kitchen and fetched back a pie pan piled high with a yellow topping.
Simon took an appreciative sniff. "Smells wonderful, Tillie."
"Sure does," Alex agreed.
McAllister and Max nodded, their mouths watering at the tantalizing scent.
Tillie cut the shepherd's pie into five thick slices. She put each on a plate and passed them around. McAllister, Simon, and Alex started digging in before she even sat back down. Max took a careful look at his, like a geologist examining rock strata. At the bottom, a thick layer of ground meat, then a thin layer of peas and carrots. On top of the vegetables was a thick, fluffy layer of mashed potatoes, and the whole thing was covered with melted cheese.
Max took a bite. It was delicious, still warm but not hot enough to burn his tongue. "Why do they call it shepherd's pie if it's made with ground beef?"
Simon snorted. "You ever try to buy mutton in a US grocery store?"
"I imagine it was mutton or lamb originally," Tillie allowed, "but every recipe I've ever seen has called for ground beef. Although I do have a friend who combines ground beef and ground turkey. Less cholesterol, she says."
Simon took a sip of water. "Have you been in the States long, John?"
McAllister finished chewing before he answered. "Several months."
Simon and Alex traded puzzled looks. There was a bitterness to McAllister's tone, a bitterness he didn't bother to try to hide.
"You don't like it here back in the USA?" Alex asked.
"Oh, I like it fine. I just … expected to have finished what I came here to do long before this." The old man returned his attention to his food.
"You said 'family business' brought you here. I thought you were getting reacquainted with your grandson?" Alex pointed his fork at Max.
"Oh, no, I'm not his grandson," Max said.
"He's no relation, just a friend," McAllister replied simultaneously.
"Chaffeur," Max corrected under his breath.
"More than that," McAllister parried.
"You said something about sparing a few hours from your search," Simon remembered. "Just what are you searching for?"
McAllister considered a moment, then told him. "My daughter."
Chapter 2: Dinner
"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."
"Hei, 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."
Chapter 3: Tillie's Recipes
Shepherd's pie and rhubarb pie
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.
Tillie Russell's Rhubarb Pie Recipe
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups rhubarb cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1 dash salt
pastry for a double crust pie (either store-bought, ready-made crust or use your favorite recipe to make crust from scratch)
Stir together sugar, flour, and salt.
Add sugar mixture to rhubarb pieces; toss to coat fruit.
(Remember, use the red part of the rhubarb only. The leaves are poisonous.)
Let fruit mixture stand for 15 minutes.
Fill a pastry-lined 9-inch pie plate with rhubarb mixture. Dot with butter.
Place top crust over the pie. Seal and flute edge. Cut steam holes into top crust.
Cover edge of pie with aluminum foil.
Bake in a 375 F oven for 25 minutes.
Remove foil and bake for 25 minutes more or until crust is golden.
Best served warm.