Essie sat on the floor, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Her high was gone, and her hands shook as she tugged the blanket closer. The young secretary that worked for Master Wong crouched in front of her. She smiled. “I’m Maria. Master Wong asked me to give you this.”
Essie took the bowl of chicken soup and nodded her thanks. She took a sip, and shuddered. After a month of dry bread, the soup’s flavour was stronger than she had expected. But the soup warmed her, and she relaxed against the wall. On the opposite side of the room, Shyla, Henry and Shaun sat with Master Wong, discussing the rescue. They weren’t alone. There were three other people in the room. Two guys and a girl. They were talking in low voices, but Essie tuned them out. She finished the soup, and rested her head on the wall. What seemed like a few moments later, a hand brushed her hair. “Essie.”
Her eyelids fluttered open, and she looked up into a pair of dark eyes. The hand grabbed her shoulder and pulled her gently to her feet. “How long was I asleep?”
Shaun helped her through a side door to the waiting pickup truck. “About an hour. But we’re getting you somewhere safe. Don’t worry.”
Essie nodded, and huddled in the back of the pickup as the rest of the ninjas got onto the back. One got behind the wheel and started the engine. There was one missing, but Essie was suddenly too exhausted to worry. The stress of the last few weeks had caught up, and all Essie wanted to do was sleep. Her eyes were closing as the wing whipped her already knotted hair into a wild mess. The ride was short – fortunately – and she was soon being hauled off the back of the truck onto the sidewalk. Shaun helped her to the door of a nearby house, and she was ushered inside with Henry close behind her. Before she could even ask where she was, exhaustion took over and she blacked out as the door clicked shut.
Shyla took a bowl of Maria’s soup and followed Master Wong into the front room. It backed onto the meditation room, but the master used it for informal discussions with his students. She sat down in a plush chair opposite Master Wong, and ate a spoon of soup. “Master Wong, how does Esther’s mother know Clarisse?” Shyla asked.
The master sat back in his chair, and Shyla could almost see the man he was sixty years ago. The years had bowed his back, and slowed his reactions, but the master was still very much a ninja. He smiled at Shyla. “Your father was a proud man, and he was a good warrior. You know how he was killed, but that is the link to Theresa and her young daughter. They witnessed his murder, and I had to speak to them. Clarisse approached me after the incident, and wanted to speak with Theresa.”
Shyla nodded. “They’ve kept contact all these years. But I’ve never met her. Why?”
Master Wong shut his eyes. “That was my choice. I never knew why Andrew was killed, but after a contact informed me, I told Clarisse that you could never meet her. The risk of you, a prospective ninja, meeting anybody associated with Liborio Fragale was too high.”
Shyla sat back in her chair. “Why now?”
The master sighed. “It was time. When I found out from Theresa that Esther was missing, I knew she had been taken by Liborio Fragale. I couldn’t know if it was to do with what she and her mother had seen, so we had to get her out.”
Shyla frowned. “They didn’t seem to be asking about ninjas. Not much anyway. She had been questioned at least twice, but didn’t know enough to be of much help to them.”
The master shut his eyes. “You were never intended to be exposed. That confrontation at the convenience store was enough for me to request you and Henry be pulled from the security detail. He assured me Liborio Fragale had no knowledge of the sting, but they did.”
Shyla rose to her feet. “You couldn’t know. I was questioned, but Protocol Seven protected what I knew. They would have pushed, but we got out of there before they could.”
The master stood up, and shuffled through to the meditation room. “Shyla, Esther is at Shaun’s house for protection. You need to go with them. Polka Ninja will be on detail at Theresa’s house, and Green Ninja will be following your mother. Silent Ninja will be part of the detail to look after you and Esther. Justin is co-ordinating with the contacts to have ninjas on call if you need them.”
Shyla followed the master, and headed to the door that led to the practice ring enclosed in a courtyard behind the building. The master stood at the door, and watched as Shyla launched into a complicated routine of moves that would be difficult for the untrained eye to follow. Master Wong, however, wasn’t an untrained eye. Halfway through the routine, he raised his stick. Shyla paused with one leg off the ground. “Ginger Ninja,” he said softly, “you need to keep that leg straight next time. Discipline cannot slack.”
Shyla nodded and completed the sequence with a flourish. She bowed, and glanced past the master at the ninja behind him. Steven smiled and flashed the keys to Master Wong’s truck. “You ready?” he said with a grin.
She smiled and bowed to the master. Then she followed Steven to the truck, climbed in, and sighed as he pulled away towards Shaun’s house.