The door slammed behind Harry as he stormed out of my office, and the lamp on my desk flickered and died. I didn’t sigh in irritation, partly because that would be conceding too much ground in Harry’s perpetual campaign to make me lose my temper, and partly because I was currently on the receiving end of a level look from Hendricks, who had been playing the part of loyal guard dog at his post by the door. Now that we were in private, Hendricks was at liberty to project his disapproval straight into my brain through force of will and blank features.
I knew what that particular blankness said. It said you don’t deserve to be irritated, with subtle hints of you’re being unreasonable. As always, I broke first, though I counted it a victory that my childish but he started it remained unspoken. It wouldn’t actually garner me any sympathy, and was more likely to convince my lieutenant that Harry and I were behaving like a couple of infatuated, emotionally constipated idiots. “Say something constructive, or get back to your essay. Either way, stop scolding me with your eyes.”
Hendricks didn’t bother correcting me for referring to his thesis as an ‘essay’. He just came straight out with, “You fucked that up royally.”
Hendricks, my Enforcer-Philosopher: Speaker of Truth to the Boss.
“Constructive comments please,” I said, because true didn’t always mean useful, “and ‘I told you so’ doesn’t count.”
I busied myself with booting my PC back up, but Hendricks crossed his arms over his chest instead of returning to the desk adjacent to mine. “I did. Tell you so. Dresden’s werewolf friends watch over the campus, he wasn’t going to take kindly to a cleanup there.”
“His werewolves deal with supernatural threats. Not the drugs trade. They had no cause for involvement.”
“No, they didn’t. And maybe if you’d contacted Borden we wouldn’t have had this cluster fuck”.
Then it was my turn to give Hendricks a level stare. “Asking a college boy for his permission to exercise my authority in his little fiefdom is intolerable, Hendricks. It’s weak.” Hendricks did sigh, and pinched at the bridge of his nose. Different conceptions of strength, yes, we’d had this debate before.
“You don’t have to phrase it as a request. A warning; to keep their heads down and not come sniffing around any mortal conflicts until morning.” Hendricks was being reasonable at me again, and he only got reasonable when I got stupid, which usually meant I should shut up and start paying attention. It was largely thanks to him that Chicago was under the impression I never got stupid.
“I’ll bear that in mind in future,” I said, logging onto the network with slightly over emphatic typing. Hendricks crossed back to his own desk without replying, reopened his laptop and made a small noise of satisfaction; presumably Harry hadn’t nuked the most recent amendments to his draft. After a few keystrokes, there was a lull in the companionable clatter of Hendricks’ typing. “You should apologise,” he told his Word document. I went still, hand hovering above my desk where I’d been reaching for the mouse.
“To Borden? No.”
I didn’t blink, but it was a near thing. “Are we actually going to have this conversation?” I asked the side of his head. “You don’t get paid to play relationship counsellor.”
Hendricks snorted. “Have you actually read my contract? It doesn’t say anything about Mob Enforcement either.”
“That’s what the ‘any other duties’ clause is for.”
“Then it can cover this too. Dresden’s in the right, for once. You apologise this time, he might realise all the other times you don’t is because he’s a paranoid dick, not because you’re stubborn.”
“I am stubborn,” I pointed out, because if there was one thing I didn’t lack, it was self awareness.
“Yeah, the two of you could turn it into a competitive fucking sport.” Hendricks said, and perhaps there was the slightest hint of frustration in his voice. Hendricks had the patience of a saint, but he’d had to watch the push and pull between Harry and I for years. I wouldn’t blame him if, deep down, he just wanted to knock our heads together. Hendricks had more than enough to worry about without complicating things with my love life, so I decided it might be in everyone’s interests to concede some ground.
“Right, an apology. We’re talking what? Flowers? A card?” Though as neither of those were edible, they might not get me very far. “Chocolates.”
“No. We’d have him hammering on the door shouting the odds about not being your girlfriend. Again. And if he does that before next Thursday, I owe Gard twenty bucks.”
“Isn’t it cheating to inform me of the details of your bet?” I had noticed that the net flow of bills between them had been moving in Gard’s favor for the last few weeks.
“Yeah. Don’t tell her.”
Hypocrisy, the name is... “Hendricks. Grow some balls and ask her for a drink already.”
He turned in his seat to look straight at me, face impassive once more. “Office romance, bad idea,” he said flatly. Apparently this relationship counsellor bullshit wasn’t supposed to run both ways.
“You’re both professionals,” I said, and then caught up with the conversation I’d apparently decided to embark on. Jesus Christ, had they slipped some estrogen into the air con today? “We aren’t drunk enough to be having this discussion. How about we get some work done?”
“Beer. Pick him up a crate from McAnalley’s, but don’t be fucking flashy about it. You don’t need him to pitch another fit about not being for sale.”
“Let me guess, you don’t have any money riding on that until March?”
Hendricks brought up his Outlook calendar and scrolled through it. “Fifth of April,” he said.
“He’s fairly regular with the autonomy snits. Maybe it’s hormonal. For wizards.”
Right. Our conversation had suddenly taken a left turn towards magical PMS. I’d had stranger conversations with Hendricks; I still hadn’t forgiven him for trying to explain Derrida’s influence on the Phenomenology vs Structuralism debate to me, one tedious afternoon when the servers had crashed and we’d been struggling to get any work done. So it was with some relief that I greeted the little notification popping up in the corner of my screen proclaiming s.gard had emailed through Suggested Improvements to Wards, For Discussion. It was even marked with a little red flag, which entirely justified me drawing a line under the topic at hand. I’d have to see about throwing another bet in her favor.
“Right. A crate of ale. Am I free tonight?”
Hendricks brought up my calendar, and then started clicking away. “Now you are.”
“Wonderful. Thank you for your assistance.”
Apparently, Hendricks was in the mood to pretend he didn’t understand sarcasm, because he came straight back to me with, “You’re welcome. Repay me by keeping your hands to yourself unless he’s in your bedroom. I don’t need to see that. Again.”
I grinned, because if he got to break my brain with unnecessarily complicated philosophical debates, I could still traumatise him on a much baser level. “Now you’re just jealous.”
“Of his skinny ass? I’m surprised you don’t get bruises when you- ”
“Gentlemen.” Not many people can take us by surprise, but Gard had something of an advantage, particularly over men like us. She had years of experience at descending unexpectedly; we shut up.
“Ms Gard?” I asked politely. She had a report in hand, presumably a paper copy of the information she’d just forwarded to me electronically.
“I wanted to talk through a few points. Unless you’re busy?”
“Not at all. Take a seat.”
Hendricks stood just as soon as she sat down. “Coffee?” he asked. I bit down on the urge to point out that we had secretaries who were perfectly capable of operating a cafetiere.
“If you’re getting one,” Gard smiled at him, and he barrelled out of the room, not even remembering to ask me if I wanted anything. I turned my gaze back to Gard who hid her fond smile almost instantly.
Ridiculous. The pair of them.