Shock the Monkey
As the only genuine wizard in the phonebook, I've come to expect a fair number of crank and prank calls in the process of gaining legitimate business but I have a good ear and can usually tell a prank call from an anonymous tip off with little problem. Then there are the warnings – some of those are prank calls too but there is the odd one that is a seriously genuine warning, either with regards to my own health or the health of those I care about. Some are just plain odd, genuine or not.
McAnally's isn't usually the source or subject of warnings as it is the closest thing to a public place of refuge that the magical community has, in big part thanks to Mac, the owner. So you can imagine that when I received one of those odd calls involving Mac's place, I tended towards accepting it as the Real Deal. The call itself wasn't obviously a warning, I don't even have any idea who it was who rang me beyond it not being Mac, but it made the back of my neck tingle in a way that I couldn't ignore.
"There's a strange man asking about Harry Dresden in McAnally's pub."
That was it, the entirety of the message. After dealing with Fae, Werewolves, Vampires, Demons and gangsters you'd think I would be used to the occasional 'strange man' asking about me in a place where I'm known to hang out but I *knew* this was different and I hoped that Mac would not be in any trouble if the 'strange man' grew tired of waiting for me to turn up. My only problem was deciding what to take with me, even if I decided to leave it in the Blue Beetle; McAnally's is designated neutral territory by the Unseelie Accords so I didn't want to be too obvious. In the end I left with just my faithful staff, blasting rod and protective duster with the intention of leaving the staff in the car; I *shouldn't* need it at Mac's but it would be close enough to grab if I had to leave in a hurry.
I reached Mac's without mishap and even managed to park close by. I muttered a thank you to the gods of parking and gave the Beetle a pat of appreciation as the door squealed shut, I never took a safe and successful journey for granted.
For someone as tall as me, entering Mac's pub can be dangerous – the door is too low for my height and while the ceiling isn't, there are the ceiling fans to contend with as well as the supporting pillars. The 'strange man' was obvious as soon as I raised my head; there was a conspicuous amount of space around him, even though the pub was fairly busy. He didn't look particularly threatening but looks can be deceptive and no-one knows that better than Mac's regulars – one of which this man was not. He looked young; with messy hair, a tweed jacket and, somewhat incongruously, a bow tie. I didn't recognise him though something made my spidey-senses tingle. I watched him as he scrutinised a bottle of Mac's micro-brew, turning his head this way and that, peering into the neck of the bottle with one eye closed, even trying to read the label upside down without spilling any of the contents. I felt a smile twitch at the corner of my mouth; he looked faintly ridiculous and yet something was compelling about the way he was so engrossed in his examination. He smiled, a sudden lighting of his face, and placed the bottle back down on the table in front of him before rummaging in a pocket and withdrawing… something. It was *then* that I realised who this 'strange man' probably was and it was someone I'd been vacillating between both dreading and wanting to meet again.
"Doctor?" I asked as I wove my way across the floor of the pub. The Doctor, if it was indeed him, hurriedly switched off his device and stowed it back in his pocket; probably remembering what had happened last time one of his devices had an encounter with me. He jumped up, narrowly missing the table and spilling the beer, with a huge grin on his face.
"Harry Dresden! So pleased you could get here." He collapsed back into the chair, picked up the bottle of beer, sniffed at it and then waved it in my direction. "Beer?" He asked. More often than not I don't have the money to pay off my tab at Mac's, so I rarely turn down free beer no matter who – or what – is offering it. I took the seat on the opposite side of the table and carefully folded myself into it.
"Thanks," I said as I reached for the bottle. The Doctor watched me as I drank, with curiously luminous eyes. "I didn't recognise you," I commented as I placed the bottle back on the table.
"Oh, this," he said, rubbing his hands over his face and hair. "You know how it is, new personality, new face, new hair."
"Erm, to be honest, no I don't. I might be a wizard but I'm still human. You aren't, are you?"
"Human? Me? Goodness, gracious no! Whatever gave you that idea?"
"The 1 head, 2 arms, 2 legs, the hair and the smile."
"Oh… that." He waved a hand in the air. "Besides, lots of species have 2 legs, brilliant way to get around the universe; tentacles are so restrictive in comparison, don't you think?"
"I haven't spoken to Cthulhu recently to ask so I can't really venture an opinion on that," I replied as I leaned back in my chair. The Doctor glared at me, I smiled. "You didn't come here just to discuss the comparative benefits of tentacles with me, Doctor. Why *are* you here?" His glare melted into something altogether more sorrowful.
"I lost something," he said.
"And you need me to 'find' it for you." I nodded to myself, of course he needed me to find something. "It isn't another yoyo is it?"
"Not this time. I don't even know if you'll be able to find her, but I want you to at least try. I've drawn a blank and I promised her parents I would…"
"Her? You're trying to find a child?"
He nodded unhappily. "I don't even know where or when she'll be and I thought the only other person who might have a chance of locating her would be you."
I was flattered by his faith in me until something he'd said hit me like a ton of bricks.
"When? What do you mean, when?" I asked.
"She's been taken through time."
"If she's not alive in the present day I really doubt I'll be able to find her." His face fell and I realised I couldn't let him down so hard. "But I will at least try. I should hopefully be able to tell if she's alive and well, but I will need something of hers to set the spell."
"Unfortunately I can't provide you with anything of hers, but I do have this." He drew out a large blue silk handkerchief from his pocket, laid it on the table and unfolded it. Nestled inside were 2 locks of hair; one short and of a fairly nondescript brown colour, the other long and a bright, flaming copper. I decided I would probably be terrified of the owner of the red hair. "Her mother's," he pointed at the red hair, "and her father's," he did the same for the brown, very carefully not touching either hair or the inside of the handkerchief. He pushed it over to me with a hopeful expression.
"That will certainly help, but I still can't promise anything and it will take me some time to set up the right sort of finding spell."
"Don't worry about that; I'm good with time. You take as long as you need, Harry Dresden." He scraped the chair back, obviously intending to leave.
"Hey, how do I contact you? Just turning up here and expecting me to find out about it isn't the most reliable form of communication."
"You're right, of course." He delved back into his pockets and pushed another item across the table; it was a business card.
"'John Smith'," I read aloud. "Not your real name, I presume?"
"No, that really *is* The Doctor." He frowned for a moment. "Ah, by the way, if the Ponds answer the phone please make sure the message is suitably cryptic. I'd never hear the last of it if they knew I'd employed an honest to goodness terrestrial *wizard* to help find their daughter."
"About that…" I began. I felt like the worst sort of mercenary for even thinking about it, but hells bells, I needed a Doctor sized infusion of cash right then.
"Half payment in advance; I haven't forgotten," he said with a smile. This time there was no sudden appearance of inappropriate amounts of cash, he just drew out a small bag from yet another pocket. "I think you might find this useful in more ways than one." He passed it to me and I peered inside after releasing the knot. I then closed it again and gaped at him.
"Real, honest to goodness gold dust? Yes." He grinned. "The genuine article," he drawled – or at least attempted to, it sounded dreadful.
"Merlin!" It was part entreaty, part exclamation, part curse.
"I really prefer 'Doctor'," he said. "Too many associations with the other name and not all of them good. Anyway, best go. Can't afford to keep the old girl waiting – she gets nervous in Chicago for some reason. Don't forget to call me." With that he sprang out of his chair and almost danced out of the pub.
I glanced between the bag of gold dust, the hair and what was left of the beer, then I carefully refolded the hair in its handkerchief, stowed it away with the gold dust in a pocket of my duster and reached for the beer. Everything makes more sense after Mac's beer and I needed that like never before.