I was at a small gathering, attending as a benefactor for one of the charities I support on the legal side of things. The local community center was closed on Sundays, so it was taking place at the Burger King across the street.
As part of my business facade, I wasn't going to be the odd one out and not order.
I stood in line behind the older woman who was the small organization's president. Lovely woman, a bit of an idealist though. She ordered and went back to the table, leaving me alone with the cashier.
He was young, seventeen at most, and all limbs and long legs. His hair was messy and long, like it had been a while since he'd had a haircut. He didn't smell that great, and I assumed he'd likewise was due for a bath. His clear cut name-tag said "Harry".
Usually I control my features, but this time my facade broke. I wrinkled my nose a little in disgust and looked at the menu.
He must have seen my expression, seen me judging him, because what he did next was extremely -ahem,- unruly.
"What are you looking at?" He growled. "Order your damn meal and mind your own business."
I didn't speak. It had been a long time since anyone had the gall to speak to me that way. Most who did ended up with a bullet in their head, and their body at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Someone came up behind him and knocked him upside the head. He flinched and turned on them, "Hey!"
A shorter woman with dark hair and dark skin brushed his anger off. She turned to face him and give him a smile. I caught sight of her name-tag, it read "Susan". I watched their exchange. Despite his tone of voice, Harry didn't seem to be actually mad at Susan. Their arguing seemed to be routine.
Susan took two fingers, pointed to her chest, and then brought her fingers up to point at her face. "Eyes up here kid-do. Don't get any ideas. I don't go for jailbait."
He snorted in reply.
Susan seemed to notice me, "And Harry, you have a customer. Treat him nicely or it will come out of your pay."
Harry growled. Yes, growled. I don't know who taught him manners, but whomever it was, I offhandedly considered shooting them. I can't stand the rambunctious sorts with little etiquette. That's why I have middle men.
I didn't appreciate rudeness, and if this boy knew me, he'd be thankful for my course of action. "I was wondering if I could speak to the manager?"
Harry glared at me with his dark eyes. "No." The lights flickered above me.
I felt my eyes narrow. Really, this boy was irritating and seemed to snap all my nerves.
The woman, Susan, interposed herself. "I'm sorry, Mr-" she questioned for my name.
Her eyes widened a fraction of an inch. Ah, she knew who I was. Admirably, she kept her voice steady. "Mr. Marcone, I'm sorry but our supervising manager had to step out for an emergency. I apologize for any inconvenience Harry has caused, and I'd like to offer you a free meal for your troubles. I can also give you our manager's number if you wish to file a complaint later."
She wrote down the information on the back of a receipt and handed it to me. I didn't take my eyes off Harry. He was glaring daggers at me.
I thanked Susan. She turned from me, grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him behind her. As she stalked away, angry teen in tow, she called to one of her coworkers. "Lydia Stern, work the register please."
I pocketed the receipt, which Susan had been very careful to not get grease on, and sat down with Hendricks and the charity's older ladies.
His face was questioning.
"It is alright Mr. Hendricks. Just an angry employee."
I turned my attention to the older woman who'd just spoken. "Beg your pardon ma'am?" I politely asked.
She seemed to be in a trance for a moment, her frail hands encircling her coffee cup. "The lights flickered. Magic. Wizard." She shook her head, clearing her mind, and looked up at the two of us. "Sorry," she laughed to herself. "Sometimes my mind goes places." She motioned with her hand, dismissing her lapse into lunacy as something unimportant.
But my interest was piked. Hendricks knew it too. I knew the man was uncharacteristically intuitive, just as I knew the older woman before me was not crazy in the least.
My thought were sidetracked when I saw a woman in uniform open the side door. She was a short blond, and I immediately recognized her as Lieutenant Murphy from my file. I made it a habit in my line of work, to recognize and identify the incorruptible among the law enforcement agencies.
She walked in and looked behind the counter. She leaned over the counter, her legs almost leaving the ground as her head looked both ways.
Harry's replacement, Lydia spoke softly to her, in a low voice I couldn't hear.
The Lieutenant's features stiffened and she went around the counter and into the food area. A few seconds later I heard a heavy door slam open. A few seconds more, and the Lieutenant was dragging the teen in by his wrist. Susan followed, clearly taken aback by the suddenness of the intrusion.
"I didn't do anything," he snapped. "It was that ass-hat's fault."
"Language!" Susan whacked him upside the head.
He spun on her. "Will you quit doing that?" Lights flickered. His voice came out much scarier than I thought possible for someone his age. Susan shrunk back at the sound of it.
His reaction was instant. His posture went lax and his tall form seemed to fold in on itself. "I'm sorry, Susan, I didn't mean to snap, I'm sor-" he reached out in a peaceful gesture, but Susan pulled away before he touched her.
Her voice was choked. "I need to get back to work."
He stood their frozen for a moment, and Lieutenant Murphy let him. He wrapped his arms tightly around his midsection and turned around, face downcast and shaded by his unruly hair.
He looked like he was about to say something.
"Dresden, go sit at the table."
He muttered something to himself and hugged himself harder. The lights flickered more. The cash register bing-ed and the money drawer shot out.
The Lieutenant cut off whatever he was saying. "Dresden." She enunciated each word. "Go sit at the table." In case words weren't enough, she pointed.
I kept watching out of the corner of my eye. It wasn't hard, everyone from the charity was eavesdropping and pretending they weren't.
Lieutenant Murphy ordered two coffees, and Lydia looked distressed when she returned with them. Murphy picked both of them up and walked over to the table where Harry sat.
He was slouched in the booth, eyes unfocused, and jaw clenched. I couldn't tell if he was angry or ashamed. Maybe both.
The flickering lights were starting to get annoying.
The Lieutenant passed the boy a coffee, pushing it right under his gaze so he could see it. They sat there drinking silently for a few minutes. Murphy's eyes locked on him, and his eyes ever analyzing the salt shaker.
The charity ladies went back to minding their own business. I half listened, not that I needed to. I was only here for my image. Although, considering the location, it probably was knocking off more points from my reputation than it was gaining.
Lieutenant Murphy and the teen started talking in soft voices. I could not hear them over the charity ladies' chatter. I read his body language instead. He kept his head down, but every now and then, he'd chance a glance up at the Lieutenant.
The two of them eventually finished their coffee and walked out. Harry followed the Lieutenant like a duckling, abet an unnaturally tall one.
When I was sure they had left, I politely excused myself from the table and went back to the register. The middle-aged woman, Lydia was getting out new plastic packs of ketchup when I approached her.
"Excuse me," I said, pleased as could be, "I was wondering if you could give me the name of the young man who just left."
She shifted uncomfortably in place. I guess she was under the impression that I was going to report her coworker. I'd put her in a difficult situation, but some how I couldn't find the will to care.
"His name, if you please," I prodded.
"Um, yeah," she stuttered. "His name is Harry."
"Harry -what?" I urged.
"Dresden. Harry Dresden."
"Could you tell a little bit about him." She hustled in place a little more. I was going to get nowhere if she felt she was betraying him. "Maybe he was just having a bad day?"
She seemed to get the hint, and her features loosened. "I don't know, he doesn't talk to me more than he has to. Susan probably knows more than anyone here. And Karrin Murphy know the most. She's been watching over him since he went to jail."
Well, that was surprising. Kids going to prison isn't a thought that sits comfortably with me. Why Lydia was choosing to tell me this also remained a mystery. With those people skills I could understand why she was working a fast food restaurant at her age. "Sorry, for a moment I thought you said 'jail'."
"Yeah," she chirped, a lot more talkative, "I don't know the details, but he got in trouble for-" she waved her hand in the air, "Something. I'm not sure what. Anyways, Murphy was in charge of his case. He must have grown on her, because she's been watching out for him ever since."
"Ah," I let out a mock sigh. "A complicated situation." I smiled at her. "Thank you Lydia. You've been very helpful."
I exchanged pleasantries with the charity ladies, and told them I was forced by circumstance to leave early.
Hendricks shadowed me out the door. As we got into the car, I whipped out my blackberry and began to make inquiries to my contacts in law enforcement. If the kid had been to jail, he'd have a record. I wanted a paper-trail and any information that came with it.