Some Ninjas Wear Sneakers

Not all ninjas wear black you know. Think about it. If the regulation uniform consisted of black tunic, pants, shoes, and face mask you certainly wouldn't want to wear more black at your day job. For that matter, you just might go the other way entirely and wear bright obnoxious orange and neon green to drive your sensei loco. But I digress.

While neon green catches the eyes of even bored college students, the Asian boy in an acid-green T-shirt never struck anyone – the manager, the customers, or me – as the type to swing around and well, strike someone. And in the area of struck persons, we discovered that besides having your once perfect nose crushed into several angles of crookedness, an attack in bright colors left a profound impression on the victim.

Chad banned neon green as Subway's casual uniform.

Oh, and about Subway; – while we're on the topic – it's highly overrated. Don't get me wrong, you can get some top notch sandwiches in that joint, but seeing how it is customer-crafted orders you can really get yourself into a nasty culinary conundrum. It wasn't Subway's fault, but some people really can do no right when choosing things. Some simply cannot be left to themselves.

I, for example, cannot for the life of me select a decent combination of foodstuffs for my six-inch no matter how helpful the menu is or how badly I'd like to safely eat without an allergic reaction. It's amazing, but the tomatoes always get in there somehow. And I don't mean that Tomoko is putting them in there unintentionally, I just keep on ordering tomato every time he asks me if I'd like tomato.

I remember it clearly. Turkey and tomatoes with toasted French bread and pepper jack cheese. The worst sandwich yet, but like I'd never ordered tomatoes before I kept on taking that first bite and hoping they would magically stop tasting like a used dishrag. It didn't before and it certainly didn't this time.

"Wrong, Tom, wrong." It blasted across the small eatery with all the dramatic exhaust of a Shakespearian reenactment.

I looked up from the napkin into which I'd just spit my first and final bite to see Chad, the straight-nosed and sandy-haired manager, looming and attempting a magnificent imitation of a vulture. He currently had his head craned over Tomoko's shoulder, peering disdainfully down at the dissected foot-long in progress. His expression could have given a croc the heebie-jeebies; all the teeth that leering look bared one would think the sandwich had blasphemed God almighty.

Tomoko had frozen, hands suspended over the All American cheese, a half loaf of white bread in one hand and a semi-psychotic break threatening behind his dark eyes. His expression – usually cheerful and easy-going – had suddenly attained a samurai-like deadliness. I imagined if he'd been packing a katana he would have busted it out and gone to work on his co-worker's sneering face.

"What's wrong with it?" Tomoko asked slowly, painfully through his teeth. "If my understanding of a sandwich is accurate…this is a sandwich."

"That's what amazes me," Chad marveled, drawling. His voice coiled like piano wire around the neck of whatever shoulder angel it was preventing Tomoko's imminent attack. He carefully picked a slice of beef from the cradle of lettuce and mayo, holding it delicately between thumb and forefinger like one would a sweaty gym sock. "That you could screw up a job simple as this one is astounding. Didn't this gentlemen order French bread just now?"

Said gentleman, a balding chap in tweed and dress-shoes, looked startled at this accusation. Now the centre of attention he tugged nervously at his tie and shook his rounded head.

"No, no. You've got it wrong," he amended hastily. "I just said I'd like to try French bread sometime. Not that I -,"

"Tom!" Chad spoke over the man's feeble protests, folding his arms behind his back and making an about-face Hitler would have admired. "I've tried to be patient, Tom but your ineptitude –," he paused here as if waiting for his high-school English teacher to commend him on proper word usage "– is insufferable." Another pause, this time as if applause would rain down.

"Jerk," muttered the freckled girl at the register.

Tomoko looked like that psychotic break might evolve into a homicidal compound fracture, indeed, the blood had backed out of his face rendering a once tan complexion pallid. He might have choked down even this indignity and just got on with the order if not for Chad's incredible knack for grinding salt into wounds.

"Feh…Aren't you going to college around here?"


I don't know if Chad ever saw it coming. Everyone else in the entire restaurant saw it coming but I tell you not one regular lifted finger of warning; the same way you wait until after the dog has bitten the town bully before coughing a mild 'Oh, and it bites.'

A warning wouldn't have helped though. The deceptively small Subway worker struck so quickly a blink would have stolen the glorious scene from you. He bounced suddenly to shave a couple feet off their height difference, then – as he hovered for that split-second there – delivered face-denting axe-kick to his employer's face.

Chad was dropped like a bad conversation and crumpled on the floor.

"Tomoko," he articulated to the fallen fast-food executive. "My name is Tomoko and I quit."

And that's how I came to be involved, as a witness. Nothing impressive I assure you, but involved I became. Tomoko didn't hang around after that, naturally, from a louse like Chad you could expect a lawsuit within seconds. The blow of Tom's sneaker to his cranium had whacked him into unconsciousness, but if the jerk maintained enough brain-cells to recall how he'd acquired his broken nose he would undoubtedly seek retribution. The young man departed quickly, the bell over the door jingling as he fled the eatery amid cheers and many-a proud, joyful tear.

I left before the ambulance arrived, tossing my sandwich in the trash and sitting through my philosophy class with a growling belly. Far from engaging in heated debate on the mechanics of the world, I could think of nothing save the drama in the Subway hours earlier. Tomoko's sudden act of reckless violence both inspired and startled me. I'd had so many preconceived notions about the nature of the dark-eyed Asian boy that the sudden introduction of martial arts seemed ridiculous, nay, impossible.

And yet, Chad was in the hospital.

Not that I had any complaints seeing how Chad was a blight on the face of humanity and egotistical to boot. The kind of guy who looked good in the mirror, a photo, and kind of funny everywhere else; it was impossible to tell him otherwise. Subway never made a bigger mistake than promoting the man to manager, on that half the college campus and I could agree. Subway was a popular student choice around lunch hour and almost everyone had grown personally familiar with Chad and his monstrous evolution from sandwich constructor to power-mongering buffoon.

But it seemed even though Chad's face had been intimately involved with Tomoko's sneakers and all the violence therein, it was undoubtedly the proprietor of those sneakers who now had the limelight. An evil Subway manager finally getting his comeuppance fertilized the starving gossip grapevine of the community college and by the time my class let out everyone and their grandmother's cousin had Tomoko on the tongue.

"Weren't you in there when it happened?" one of my classmates inquired. He sat next to me out of habit and often caught me tossing out sandwich wrappers or finishing off a large Coke with Subway stamped across the cup. Now such insipid details held a very deep and potentially fascinating interest to him.

I didn't smile, though his own charming dental work flashed temptingly.

"I hate Subway," I told him flatly.

He didn't sit next to me the day after.

Lunch that afternoon, however, was fabulous. Chad had been diagnosed with a mild concussion and couldn't come in for work, leaving freckled, friendly Stacy Lu and some kid named Steve to make lunch for the campus multitudes. I finally ordered that ham and pastrami cheese melt I'd pined after for so long and Stacy Lu gave me extra cheese.

"Fer our best customer," she whispered, winking at me over the register. An acidic voice in my head reminded me to go to Taco Bell. "Now that Chad's gone we kin all afford t' be nice. But…I was wonderin'. Yu' go t' the college here right?"

I nodded. "Philosophy, psychology, composition and mathematics. Why?"

The freckled girl tapped the top of the glass barrier separating customers from the food. "I haven't been able t' reach him and I've got his pack. He left it 'ere yesterday and I don't know how t' contact him, 'cause he's not answerin' his phone. I figured…since yu' go t' school with him.… Could you look him up at th' college directory thingee and get his things t' him?"

'College directory thingee'? Directory? We had one of those and furthermore, for public use? The mind boggled and somewhere out there, there was a college directory thingee with Tomoko's class schedule pinned up for my convenience. Ha. Part of me sleuthed that if I, a student attending the college, didn't know the details of this so called directory then there was no way Stacy Lu could either. Conclusion: It didn't exist.

Nevertheless, some remote part of me that murmured things like 'charity', 'good-will', and 'free-samples' poked me about being a good citizen and helping the poor boy out for the sake of niceness and no ulterior motives. Right, because I have many, many myriads of motives bent on being ulterior. This train of thought must have annoyed me into proving something to myself because I found myself overcome by the voice of the 'free sample' conscience within me.

"No problem," I said. "Where is it?"

She gave me a free Coke and a coupon to pacify me – maybe she could see the hateful look I was giving my face in the Plexiglas – and handed me the lumpy denim pack, jangling mutely with a frayed collection of key-chains. I finished my marvelous meal in peace. Oddly, with Tomoko's backpack over my shoulder I felt strangely…happy? Purposeful? Filled with brilliant and glowing confidence? Or maybe I was just full. Amazing what a good sandwich can do, no?

Well-fed and happy I departed for my next class. Now as I say this, let me turn your attention to a long-standing trend in life. Should one admit to happiness and a sense of relaxation, inevitably you will be not only smacked in the face with a hard-core dose of reality, but kicked in to stomach as well. I knew this; preached it religiously to the annoyance of my optimistic friends. Yet in that instant I broke taboo and let myself think that everything would just…magically work out for the best. What occurred next can only be attributed to my own lack of faith in Murphy's Law.

Several boys in low-riding hats and sunglasses stepped from behind two parked cars and another one fell from the sky. Well, no, he couldn't really have fallen from the sky, but it just seemed like it at the time. I didn't catch him in the act of entering the scene. I just knew he hadn't been there before and suddenly he was and he had a handful of silver pointy somethings.

"Are those throwing stars?" I asked stupidly.

They didn't answer, but the one on my left stepped forward suddenly and seized my hands tightly. Odd. Forward admirer or case of mistaken identity? But far from romancing me with sweet nothings, he twisted my arms and the rest of me followed suit until I was bent awkwardly around my own spine, balancing on one leg and yelping.

"She's not so tough," laughed the one holding me. Part of me wished to mock him for ever anticipating toughness from a scrawny female college student, but the rest of me was far too busying whimpering in pain.

"Shuttup!" snarled the boy with throwing stars, backing away like I might suddenly pull a Matrix move and kick his buddy into the parked sedan. "She's part of the Ayame Clan. We don't know what she can do."

"Get the bag," the last ninja commanded, pointing to the book bag I'd dropped under the Mercedes next to us. Throwing Star boy picked it up and slung it over his shoulder, pocketing his weapons. He then did something like jumping, save with a single bound he propelled himself clear over the hood of a minivan and onto the Subway roof. The other two followed suit, springing away and I was left stunned and staring on the curb. It took a minute for the realization to sink in – If this happened to you, trust me, you'd do the same. – But when it did something in the vicinity of my sanity fractured.

"I just got mugged by ninjas!" I screeched idiotically. "And…and they stole my backpack! Holy cheese! My backpack! All my stuff is in there!"

"Crap. Seriously?" a familiar voice asked over my shoulder.


Now, I'm not usually one prone to panicking, but at that moment my nearly shattered common sense wouldn't withstand something so horrifying as a few harmless words. My imagination had kicked into corny action-movie mode and I thought for certain the paranoid ninja with the throwing stars had come back to finish me off. It sounds dumb now, but at that moment I could have cared less which innocent bystander I battered with a backpack.

I swung Tomoko's bag and whacked my mysterious assailant with all the force hysteria lends a college girl. A decent amount apparently because it collided against his shoulder with a loud 'whack!' and knocked him headfirst into the sedan. The sound of skull denting car door brought me back down to earth in time to recognize Tomoko's pained face under the hands clutching his forehead.

"Ow! Good God, girl! What's your damage?!" he cried, rubbing his head furiously as an angry lump rose along his hairline.

"Whoops," I said, too shell-shocked to think of something so elaborate as an apology. "I thought you were a ninja."

"I am," he snapped, dropping his hands angrily to his sides.


"OW!" he bellowed, elbowing away the next headshot from my (his) book bag. He grabbed it mid-swing, nabbing the carrier strap along the top of the bag and matching me for my grasp, an impressive feat that I didn't appreciate. He looked rather peeved. "Do you have something against me or are you always this psychotic?"

"Ninjas just assaulted me, forgive me if I don't harbor undying affection for you," I shot back, face hot, glowering at him over the top of the book bag between us. He too narrowed his eyes, but neither party relinquished their grasp on the precious satchel betwixt them. At the very least he seemed to have missed that last part, sparing me some undue embarrassment. "Any reason why they decided to steal my homework or is that just what you lot do these days."

Admittedly, I probably would have had a bit more patience for the guy if I hadn't lost my bag. I did, after all, hit him needlessly with his own backpack. However, the aching pit in my soul that my computer usually filled continued to prod me urgently and it made my manners few and far between. This wasn't a sandwich order. I wanted my bag back!

Tomoko made an annoyed 'cha!' kind of sound, tugging experimentally on the bag. I tugged back twice as hard and he relented an answer. "They thought that the bag in your hands was my bag. They made a mistake and it's a good thing they did because it would be my butt on the line if they got hold of what's inside."

The cat in my ancestry got the better of me. "Yeah?" I prompted.

He glared. "It's a clan secret. You can't have a look if that's what you're getting at," articulated the former Subway worker. "Look just…Hand. It. Over." He yanked hopefully but I only dug in my heels and clung harder. He heaved an exasperated sigh. "Just give it to me and we can go our separate ways."

"What if I don't want to?" I inquired obnoxiously, looping an arm around the middle of the pack and hooking it to my chest in a passionate embrace. "What if I've grown attached to your clan secret…thingee."


There were people passing us on their way to or from lunch, several staring curiously. One or two well meaning men paused, contemplating an intervention. Their attentions didn't escape Tomoko's and to my delight he glanced anxiously at them. This close I could see a flash of pale teeth biting his lower lip.

"Look," he hissed, grabbing the shoulder straps with both hands and yanking me into whispering range. He lowered his voice, looking uncertainly around the parking lot for witnesses and leaned over to murmur dangerously. "If you don't give me the bag, you know I can take it from you. So just hand it over."

"Help! Rape! I'm being mugged!" I shrieked around the parking lot.

"Gah! Shuttup!" he cried, slapping a hand over my mouth. "Okay! Okay! What do you want?"

I slapped his hand off my mouth and glowered thoughtfully a moment, pursing my tingling lips. "To see the secret?" I gambled.

"No!" he said irately. "Absolutely not."

"Then help me get my stuff back!" I hissed in his face. He flinched and part of me noted that perhaps that had been the last thing he wanted to hear from me so I tried to elaborate. "I keep my laptop in there. My whole life is on that laptop and if I don't get it back I'm done for."

"Yeah. And if we steal from the Tsume Clan, we're done for. Permanently," Tomoko ground out.

Fine then, ninja boy, be difficult. I've read enough modern day spy and espionage novels to handle your feudal behind. I shot him my most merciless stare and licked a metaphorical postage stamp of black-mail.

"I'll tell everyone you're a ninja and squeal on you for assaulting your manager," I threatened. "Bet the Ayame Clan will love having that tacked to their good name. Isn't use of martial arts considered armed assault or something? It wasn't exactly self-defense, you know."

The homicidal samurai look had worked its way back into his gaze but I refused to budge on this. I loomed over him, my fingers dug into the backpack. Hopefully I looked as scary as I thought I did in my mind, because if the yawning gates of hell weren't creaking open behind me and lightening flashing wrath in my gaze I wasn't sure this iron-fisted Subway worker would relent.

"You're evil," he hissed.

"Get. Me. My. Stuff. Back," I repeated. "This bag doesn't leave my sight until you get my bag back."

I'm not certain exactly how long we stood facing off like two personal space deficient cowboys, but by the time those slanting black eyes shifted into a more affable smirk – by which I mean cocky, not friendly – my arms had begun to ache and my facial muscles tweak from holding such an unpleasant leer. He dropped his grip on the bag and flung his hands wide, unarmed surrender.

"Fine," he shrugged, charmingly easy-going in his manner. "Piece of cake."

I wasn't convinced. "Didn't you just say this was suicide?" I asked dryly.

"Yeah," he agreed, picking something off his bright green 'Bunnies are out to get me' T-shirt. "Dying is the easy part. Just remember if I get a shuriken in the ass, I blame you."

Then he did the same thing the Tsume Clan ninja did, leaping on the sedan and doing that unbelievable Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon thing and leaping over the eatery like some neighbor's flowerbed wall. He landed somewhere out of sight and I stared blankly at the top of the giant yellow Subway sign for a good couple minutes before finally climbing into my car and heading home.

If a Subway worker turning out to be some kind of amazing gravity defying shinobi should have bothered me…it didn't. I got home a bit late that night and broke out a can of ravioli to pop in the microwave. I watched sit-com reruns, ate the only food a college girl could afford and waited for Tomoko to – hopefully – show up with my backpack and my homework. Until then I could waste away the hours doing pretty much whatever I wanted.

Tomoko's backpack was nested safely on the floor between my knees and far as I was concerned if the Ayame Clan wanted their precious secret back without me blabbing about how one of their members had gone Jet Li on a civilian (no matter how disgusting and loathsome) then they would concentrate on getting my stuff back. I would not let little things like the bending of Newton's Law and ninja assassins bother me, nosiree.

And on the note of things bothering me, if I should have felt some kind of guilt for tossing Tomoko into ninja politics with a rival clan…Well, I can't say I didn't feel just a little guilty, but heck, he did the flying ninja jump as well as any amid the trio who mugged me. Ninjas were supposed to be all stealthy and undetectable so it seemed plausible he'd do just fine. If not, he could just call on his other ninja buddies to help him out right?

"Okay, we have a bit of a set back," a voice said over my shoulder, rudely jump-starting my tender heart.

"Great googly-moogly!" I shrieked; whacking the intruder over the head with my ravioli bowl and smacking him face-down in the shag-carpet. Only after I'd rendered the speaker partially unconscious did I recognize the neat buzz-cut along the back his neck and thick black fringe topping his head.

"I hate you…so much," Tomoko told me loathingly.

"Sorry," I apologized, giving a mortified little shrug. "I, uhh…didn't hear you sneak up on me."

"That's the point of 'sneaking up' on someone! Hence the 'sneak'!" Tomoko snapped angrily, tearing off his crooked black facemask. "You hired a ninja. Whatcha think I was gonna use the front door?"

"Kind of…"

Tomoko looked ready to throttle me, but settled instead for wringing his mask and thrashing around violently. He calmed down shortly and came around to sit on his knees in front of me, breathing carefully. In the light of the television I could see he'd abandoned his demented bunny shirt for traditional black ninja attire and a headband.

"Look," he said, gesturing to the air in front of me to get my attention. "The Tsume Clan really wanted the get hold of my clan's secret. So they're kinda cranky right now."

"Cranky?" I echoed flatly.

He undid his headband to reveal an ugly looking blue-black lump along his hair line to the left. I make a face and hissed in sympathy.

"No. That's the one you gave me," he said irritably. He pointed at a less obvious red slice along his temple. "The one over here."

I blinked. "Oh. So they're using throwing stars, huh?"

"With prejudice," he told me dryly. "Problem is, they've starting to jump conclusions and they still think you're part of the Ayame Clan. Since you were the last seen with my backpack they're coming this way to get the real thing. So you have to give it to me, now."

I glared. "Did you get my pack?"

He looked appalled. "Of course not. I was running for my life, thank you very much. I'm serious now, give me the bag or I'm going to knock you out and -,"

"Kill me?" I said, rolling my eyes.

"No," a new voice said smarmily. "We'll do that"

Then a small garrison of people in black literally fell out of the shadows in my living room. Tomoko must have picked up on them before me, because while I'd only just started to register 'hey…ninjas!' he'd grabbed me and the bag and dived over the kitchen island into the aisle between stove and dishwasher.

"Mother of cheese-doodles! They're in the house!" I screamed. "When my roommates get back, they're going to -,"

Shizzt! Shizzzt! Thunk! Thunk!

Two mean-looking throwing stars lodged themselves in the wood-planking, one in the silverware drawer, one between Tomoko's sneakers. (I noticed he was still wearing them despite everything.) He shot me a contemptuous look.

"You were saying?" he asked sarcastically.

"Get me out of here and I'll buy Subway for the rest of my natural life," I swore to him, entirely somber.

Several more shuriken found their way into the refrigerator door, causing me to scream and kick the cabinets across from me. Tomoko pried the star at his feet loose and chucked it at some poor shinobi sap across the room. Someone gave a yelp of pain and the Ayame ninja dropped back down next to me.

"Make it Taco Bell and you have a deal," he told me narrowly, eyeing the spatula on the stove. Probably as a potential weapon.

"Wait, the one on Fifth and Greenwood?"

Shizzt! Shizzzt! Thunk! Thunk!

"Yes! Yes! �Yo quiero Taco freakin' Bell!" I wailed.

"Alrighty then," cheered Tomoko brightly, taking my hand and giving it a firm shake, sealing the agreement before he wrenched open the drawers across from him. While three more ninja stars found their way into the countertops, Tomoko began tossing various cooking implements my way. I squeaked; panicky as I tried without success to catch them, instead fumbling the bizarrely shaped utensils until a whisk bounced off my forehead and Tomoko sang a victorious, "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha!" and imerged from the drawers wielding the biggest frying pan I'd ever seen.

"When did Josie buy that?!" I shrieked.

Tom ignored me and instead bounded over the island, hollering something of both violent and Asian persuasion. I waited patiently for whizzing of shuriken and the dull 'thunk' that would mark the young Ayame's death. I'd already decided he was quite mad, taking my roommate's cookery and wielding it like the non-stick surface would not only prevent burned eggs but also assorted mortal flesh wounds.

Nevertheless, figuring I was already going to get a pointy thing between the eyes it probably wouldn't hurt to get a look before I met a messy end. Sneaking along the base-boards I crawled commando-style across the floor. Somewhere on the other side of the kitchen island I could hear ninja battle raging and my insurance company giving me the proverbial finger when I tried explained the collateral. Sitting up on my elbows, I reached up and felt along the top of the counter until my groping fingers found a cutting board and using it as an impromptu shield I inched around the corner to get a glimpse of the mêlée.

Amid the chaos I could make out at least seven different figures in black. From what I could tell, Tomoko was the only one wearing jeans and sneakers among the whirling tangle of legs, arms and ninja weaponry. Also, I supposed Tomoko had to be the only ninja using a frying pan as both shield and mace. His darkly clad adversaries yelped and ducked frantically as the giant piece of iron crockery laid into diverse skulls and knee-caps, humming and hissing dangerously through the air. Tom looked like he was having a ridiculous amount of fun.

After getting clubbed once or twice about the shoulders, the smarter ninja darted back to the safety of the far corners. There they fired shuriken and small triangular daggers. The weapons zipped silent and deadly through the air toward their target. However, the effectiveness of their strategy repeatedly failed as the giant pan – capable of frying four omelets at a time – defected and ricocheted the projectiles off into unintentional victims nearby.

As the number of fallen steadily increased, it dawned upon me that Tom was not only light-years faster then his opponents, but consequently capable of mass K.O. count via frying pan. Though his opponents out numbered him, it didn't matter. He moved with a kind of sure-footed speed around the dinner room chairs, hopping foot-stools and running about tables so he faced only one or two of them at a time. These unfortunate few he dispatched swiftly with a solid knock to the face or ribs. He didn't do them all in quickly, but slowly, the Tsume Clan numbers dwindling from seven, to six to three until finally one of them realized if they didn't stop, there wouldn't be anyone left to carry the wounded.

"Matte! Matte!" one of them screamed, reverting to his native tongue in terror as Tom bore down with the pan. Whatever he said, it was enough to get the Ayame's attention and he paused thoughtfully, pan cocked threateningly in his gloved hands. I never considered it, but it is possible for someone to look absolutely cool with a cooking implement in hand.

"Nani?" he demanded, looking cross.

The other ninja seemed relieved, dropping his weapon. His remaining teammates hung back anxiously, exchanging worried looks. The pan still hung speculatively over their buddy's head. "Kyousen?" inquired the fallen fighter.

Tom considered it a moment, then dropped his stance and stepped back, jabbing a finger at the window. "Get lost and fork over that backpack you stole earlier," he commanded them fiercely. "And if I catch you snooping around again, I'm taking it up with your Clan leader myself. Now get out and get bent you wankers!"

I'm not certain they understood some of that last bit, but they cleared out anyway. Quite suddenly the kitchen was empty. The only sign of their presence that remained was a small armory of sharp-things lodged in the furniture and walls and several massive, human-shaped holes in the far wall. Tomoko looked tired, sighing and massaging the back of his neck as he slung the frying pan over his shoulder.

He glanced over his shoulder at me, dark eyes pinning me huddled behind the cutting board. I managed a very watery laugh, dropping the board to the floor and sitting up on my knees, attempting pitifully to be casual. Tom seemed unimpressed, unruffled, bored or a combination of all three as he crossed the room and stepped in front of me, looming.

I grinned sweetly, reaching behind the counter and dragging his backpack out. Several shuriken were sticking out of it. Tom's expression grew slightly nastier so I tried to pleasant as possible removing them. He still looked annoyed so I handed it to him with both hands. The ninja snatched it, wearing the same murderous expression as the one he'd given Chad in the restaurant and I waited to get aquatinted with the bottom of his shoes. Instead he jammed his mask back on and waved the pan threateningly.

"Next time, I'm hitting you with this thing," he told me. Then he handed it to me and left through the front door, closing it carefully behind him.

So Tomoko managed to fend off our adversaries using only his skill, fortitude, sheer luck and a frying pan. The remaining members of the Tsume Clan raiding party handed over my laptop and homework. The credits rolled and several cowboys rode off into the sunset.

Tomoko left with his clan's secret and returned it to his family. To this day, he tells me, the whole lot of them still won't let him within four-hundred and fifty feet of it. Something about nearly dishonoring the entire blood-line, getting fired, assault, and the collective butt-whooping of an odd fifteen Tsume Clan shinobi; point is he can't touch it.

I've also come to realize that perhaps Subway is not the only overrated chain of fast-food. Taco Bell, it turns out, sports a vast array of frightening choices. The expansive menus, meal combos and ever-changing specials present a dire psychological hurdle for indecisive and utterly slow people. But I guess I'm in for a really long haul because I did swear on my soul to eat there every lunch for the rest of my life and unless I want to see the sharpest end of a shuriken I have to hold to that promise.

Needless to say, with Tomoko behind the counter taking my order everyday I haven't been able to order a single thing without tomatoes in it yet.