Midnight Rose 1992

(To my sons)

With the arrival of summer, came a time of extra vigilance for the inhabitants of the secret underground world of the Tunnels. Perimeter patrols of the tiny community were increased and checkpoints were doubled. The patrons of Below had to be very alert when entering or exiting their hidden sanctuary. They did not want to attract the attention of onlookers and risk revealing the secret entrances or be followed underground.

The real threat came from kids, out of school for the summer, looking for adventure. Their favorite playground was the endless maze of underground culverts and subways below the busy city streets and away from the sweltering summer heat. These Hobbits---as these kids were code-named after the short, big-footed elves in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings---spent hours in the dark, twisting, man-made underworld playing fantasy games and mythical roles.

Their territory was the upper levels of the tunnels, which the Tunnel community did not inhabit, but used as routes to places Topside. It was important to keep a watchful eye on the Hobbits because there had been several occasions when the kids had found access to the lower levels.

Vincent had been following one group of four teenage boys, no more than 13 or 14 years old, for most of this particular afternoon. He shadowed them from behind, either in a culvert below, an access space above, or a parallel hidden passageway. Stopping now and then, Vincent tapped out a coded message relaying the Hobbits’ new position on a convenient pipe; the echoing voice of metal carrying the message deep into the bowels of the earth.

The Hobbits’ games never ceased to amuse and fascinate Vincent. Some pretended to be warriors or knights in search of magic and treasure. Their imagination created invisible dragons and monsters to conquer on their quests. Other groups were elite military squads or mercenaries dressed in camouflage and face paint. Older Hobbits came into the tunnels to play laser-tag with battery-powered weapons and belt buckles that buzzed and beeped.

These four were pretending to be---Vincent was not sure what the boys were pretending. His feline stealth kept him within listening distance of their conversations and he caught each of the character’s names, but the names did not fit the game. The odd creatures they spoke of and fought against only added to Vincent’s puzzlement.

The leonine guardian of the Tunnel world was still very perplexed when he returned to the central living hub of his home after the Hobbits had left his domain. Vincent found his father and Catherine sharing evening tea and conversation in Father’s Library when he arrived.

"Ah, Vincent, there you are," the tunnel patriarch said. The elder reached for the teapot to pour his son a cup of the herb brew. "I trust the perimeter is free of Hobbits…hopefully for the evening."

"Yes, the four left together," was the soft gravel reply. Vincent’s attention was turned from Father to the young lady rising from her chair and into his embrace.

Catherine gave Vincent a welcoming hug, her arms wrapped around Vincent’s middle. "My day was long and tiring but satisfying." Catherine stated impishly as she found the hard flat muscles of her love’s back that just beckoned to be rubbed. "How was your day?"

Vincent released Catherine and slung his bulky mantle over a nearby chair, which he then pulled up beside Catherine’s and sat down. He accepted the mug of tea passed to him.

"Curious…is perhaps the best word."

Father chuckled, "Have they opened a new chapter of…what is it…Dungeons & Dragons?"

"No, it was nothing that I recognize." Vincent slowly sipped his tea, then his brow knit with puzzlement, "I honestly have no idea who, or what they were playing. The names of the characters do not even fit."

"Tell me what you heard," Catherine said, "Perhaps I can help solve the mystery. Nancy’s little boys are into all the action characters."

Vincent cocked his elegant head of bushy gold thoughtfully. "Tell me, what do you know of four Renaissance painters running around in the sewers fighting in the martial arts style?"

Catherine nearly choked on her tea, but managed to suppress her laughter enough to answer with a big grin. Vincent’s seriousness was hysterical.

"Vincent, haven’t you ever heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?"