A couple of hours later, actually feeling faint from hunger, I glumly watched as a small boat departed from the west end of the Navy Pier, out into Lake Michigan past the breakwater, on its skyline tour. Looking behind myself as the sun sank behind the Chicago skyscrapers, I admitted that the pair on this boat, seated together and holding hands when I saw them off, were clearly going to have a tremendous view of the sunset and then the twinkling lights of the illuminated buildings coming on.
I didn’t give a damn. Clutching the quarter that had caused a vicious argument between my brain over using it for a call to McAnally and my stomach holding out for spending that coin on a morsel of sustenance, I staggered over to another phone booth, this one at the end of the pier among some storage buildings and well out of the way of somebody taking any interest whatever in a man possibly gnawing upon the end of this phone’s receiver in a desperate quest for nourishment.
Entering the booth, I made the call, to lean against the side of this small cubicle as I waited for Mac to answer. The way my luck had been going lately, he was probably holding a sing-along for the entire bar and unable to hear the phone ringing. To my mild surprise, the phone at the other end was picked up, to have a familiar voice greet me.
“Look, Mac, just say yes or no if--”
“Oh, thank God, Harry! Listen, are you still following those people?” There was actual worry in McAnally’s voice as he hurriedly asked that question.
Blinking at the front of the call box, where distorted reflections revealed a very confused wizard’s face there, I replied, “Yes, why--”
“STOP! Go home! Do NOT do anything else! Forget all about them, you hear me?!” barked Mac.
“What the hell’s going on?” I protested. “All I’ve seen of them is that they’ve been having a perfectly ordinary day here in Chicago.”
“Ordinary?!” For the next few moments, I listened in shock at Mac’s hysterical laughter, until he managed to get himself somewhat under control, to continue in a very grim voice. “You’re not going to quit until I tell you more, right, Harry?”
“Hell’s bells, yes!” I snorted, feeling a chill run down my spine at this possibly foolish statement.
Mac sighed with resignation, to then go on with evident reluctance in his voice, “I’d really prefer telling you this in my bar, since just talking about them risks attracting potential attention from some very nasty people. And just as nasty things.” When I kept quiet in sheer shock at hearing that, Mac started talking again in the hurried tone that most people use to deliver the bad news as fast as possible.
“The man is Xander Harris, and the woman is Faith Lehane. Both are Sunnydale survivors, and they helped collapse the Hellmouth there two years ago. The rumors are that Harris was born in the city and spent his high-school years fighting the demons infesting that place, culminating in destroying the monster known as the Mayor. Plus, he stared down Angelus, stopped the Red Witch from destroying the world, and later helped her in creating the mob of Slayers now existing instead of the single superhuman girl in the world that was around before. Oh, by the way, the woman with him? She’s the Dark Slayer, the one who went to prison for murder and then got a pardon, the one who makes the monsters piss themselves when they hear her name. Do you really want me to go on, Harry?”
At that point, I discovered there were actual advantages to not eating for the last twelve hours, such as when my stomach heaved, I managed to not throw up on myself. Gulping down bile, I gagged, “No thanks, Mac, this must have cost you. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
“Just go home, Harry,” Mac sighed. “When you come here later, I’ll provide the beer for free when you tell me the story, and after that, let’s never mention it again, okay?”
“Absolutely!” I fervently agreed. “Goodbye, Mac.”
It was only when I hung up the phone that it occurred to me the both of us had used the formal parting phrase, which was a contraction of “God be with you.” Shivering, I knew we had meant it.
I then leaned forward to rest my head against the call box, the plastic and metal of this cool against my suddenly sweaty forehead.
The Sunnydale Hellmouth. For over a century, it had been the phrase to frighten generations of wizards and other residents of the magical communities worldwide into good behavior. Even my mentor Ebenezar McCoy, who’d often stared Death in the face without blinking, had looked ill the few times he’d mentioned it. Among those rare events had been the most emphatic warning ever given by him to me of never going anywhere near the place. “It’s like everyone there’s been chewin’ on locoweed, hoss. The vampires, demons, humans -- EVERYONE -- they all go nuts, and the longer they stay there, the crazier they get. It’s why even the most vicious members of the Red Court stay the hell away.”
Which was why the entire magical population of the world had been stupefied at the Sunnydale collapse and the resulting destruction of the Hellmouth. Nobody, whatever their age, history, or level of power, had ever dreamed of anything that could end the Boca del Infierno, so rumors had rapidly flown around the globe about the entire situation. Except later, when the first glimmers of the truth had come out, only to create even more disbelief.
The First Evil? Turok-Han vampires? A human witch having enough power to cast a world-spell? One that created not hundreds, but THOUSANDS of Slayers?
Slayers. I shuddered, just as any ordinary human would have shuddered at the name of the most vicious serial murderer they could think of. Part demon, yet looking like an ordinary human girl, and also the most perfect killing machine ever created during their short lives after being Called. Totally unaffected by any powers of the Red, White, and Black Courts, able to rip into pieces most demons and other unearthly creatures, Slayers were the sole humans ever feared by monsters who otherwise only grudgingly respected the numbers of the main species of this world.
They also had the nasty habit of killing evil wizards, and those other spell-casting individuals they considered evil right up to the point they lopped off the heads of these enemies. Wizards like a certain Harry Dresden having a rather seamy reputation among those in the magical know.
I wasn’t sure how long I slumped against the phone box. Only when a tapping against the door of the booth continued did I realize someone else wanted to make a call. Straightening up and scrubbing my face with my hand, I turned around and opened the door in preparation for exiting the booth. In the next instant, this wasn’t necessary, as I was yanked off my feet out of the rectangular cubicle and then carried deeper into the darkness among the storage buildings in a blurring rush, to then be slammed by my back against the wall of one of these structures, all of my breath huffing out in shock as I stared into the very cold face of Faith Lehane.
Right after, Xander Harris stepped up at my side, with an equally cold face, as he held the sharp blade of a knife against my throat. Which was easy enough for him to do, since Lehane was holding me up by my collar just with the pinched grip of her thumb and forefinger. A quick peek down showed I was dangling a few inches from the ground. A firm nudge by the man’s knife directed my attention back to the woman, as she dryly said, “’Kay, it’s been fun havin’ ya follow us all ‘round town, but since we’re now headin’ back to our hotel, it ain’t gonna end up with ya standin’ at the foot of our bed. Me, I don’t care, but boytoy here is kinda prudish for someone who shacked up with a thousand-year demon.”
“Faith, Anya would have been more than happy to include you in our bedroom games, except she was really sure that asking you would have resulted in her being disembowled,” noted Harris in an equally dry tone.
The woman still holding me in mid-air without the slightest strain whatsoever now smirked, and glancing over at the man, she cooed, “Hey, looks like ya missed havin’ the best time of yer life, stud. We woulda killed ya, for sure, but at least ya woulda died the happiest man on the planet.”
“Glrg!” was my own contribution to this surreal discussion.
Both of my captors looked at me, then at each other in perfect synchronity, which continued as they gave each other matching evil grins. Chuckling, the man lowered and hid away in his clothing his knife, and the sniggering woman then carefully put me down on my very unsteady feet. She now let go of my collar, and stepped back a pace to put her fists on her hips and sniff, “Well, we do need to get outta here, and ya ain’t coming with us, ya private wizardin’ dick. Now, ordinarily I coulda do five minutes on that alone, but I ain’t in the mood.”
“Uh, what?” I fumblingly said.
Sighing, Harris now recited, “Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, a wizard working as a private investigator here in Chicago. Currently under the Doom of Damocles, despite it wasn’t your fault, and still using his powers to fight the good fight. Look, we found all about you when we went up the Sears Tower and used our super-duper satellite phone Willow enchanted for us. We didn’t mind all that much about you eavesdropping on us in the restaurant, but putting a tracking spell on us wasn’t nice. So, after learning you were an okay guy, we decided to just ignore you if you persisted in following us. I have to say, I admire stubborness, but honestly, enough’s enough.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, just to try to calm my whirling thoughts, but evidently they thought I was doing something else, as the man now barked, “Knock it off!” in a tone angry enough that made me snap my eyes back open to look at where Harris had shoved his right hand in his front jeans pocket. An instant later, an explosion of magically-caused pain bloomed inside my head, as I staggered on my feet.
This time, the woman only looked at me, her eyes glittering in predator ferocity, as she also added, “Yeah, any more of your wizardin’ crap, and I’ll be in the mood ta kick your ass alla the way over to the other side of that lake!” Her angry thumb being jerked over her shoulder at Lake Michigan behind her showed exactly which of the world’s bodies of water she was talking about.
The truth was, I believed her.
Swaying on my boots, I decided it was time to tell the simple and plain truth. Opening my mouth, I came out with, “Look, Mr. Harris--” For some reason, this made him grimace, but he then just glowered at me, clearly waiting for me to go on. Which I did, trying again, “--I didn’t know who you or Ms. Lehane--” Now I DID stop, with the added complication of my body sphincters needing to be kept under control at that sudden savage growl coming from the woman. After a few moments of silence among us all, I said in a unashamedly squeaking voice, “When I first saw you in Lou Mitchell’s, I knew you were people that needed to be watched, what with all your power evident to me. Other than that, I didn’t have the faintest idea who you were, just that you were in my town, and possibly about to cause trouble and hurt the innocent.”
A sudden bright smile made every tooth gleam in the Slayer’s face, as she grinned at the man with an eyepatch, “Hey, we got a hero here, stud. Kinda like someone else I know, ain’t he?” finished the woman snickering at the man rolling his remaining eye.
Bewildered, I watched Mr. Harris sigh and absently scratch his forehead above the patch covering his missing eye. He looked at me with actual sympathy in his gaze, and then he simply shrugged, “Okay, no harm, no foul. We’ll be leaving tomorrow anyway, heading back to Cleveland.”
“Uh, you mean Cleveland, Ohio? The place with the new Hellmouth?” I gaped at the pair looking back with puzzlement at me. “Why in God’s name would you want to go THERE?!”
“It’s our job,” replied the confused man, with the woman next to him nodding in agreement. “We keep an eye out for the local Big Bads, save the world every May during the annual apocalypse, and basically do the usual Sunnydale thing we’ve done all our lives.”
“Uggggghhhh,” I mumbled, trying to wrap my head around that unbelievable statement. Frantic to have at least one question answered in a more comprehensible manner, I blurted, “Well, what are you doing HERE, really?”
“Taking a vacation,” chorused the pair simultaneously, looking at each other in pleased startlement at their unamious answer.
“You’re tourists?! Plain, ordinary tourists going around town seeing the sights, spending money, taking pictures, doing the whole visiting town thing….?” I trailed off in the middle of my incredulity, staring at them both.
Faith Lehane reached over to put her right arm around the shoulders of Xander Harris and pull him closer to herself, as she leaned her head against his, and she blissfully smiled at me and also the entire world. “Yeah, fella. See, after boytoy here got back from Africa, me an’ him met up again in Cleveland, and we worked out things from before in Sunnyhell. Found ourself gettin’ tight, an’ it was good. ‘Course, it kinda got to be a pain with everyone at the Cleveland House lookin’ over our shoulders, so we took a few days off, comin’ to this place. Neither of us ever been here before, so we decided to hit the high points we learned about in the guidebooks. Includin’ that pizza place, an’ damn, that was a helluva pie!” Both she and Harris smacked their lips at the same time at those last words.
My stomach also joined in, with an actual starving howl of agony that sent back echoes from where we were among the storage buildings. I hastily looked down to rub this part of my body, and then I brought my head back up to receive the bug-eyed stares of my captors, if they were still that. Harris then sympathetically shook his head, and exclaimed, “Damn, man, didn’t you get anything to eat all day?”
I mumbled, “Early on, I had to keep following you while staying out of sight, so I couldn’t get away to have something, and when we got to the ballpark, I used up all my money to get inside. After that--”
“Oh, fer Chrissakes,” groaned Lehane, as she dug in her jeans pocket, pulling out a wad of cash. She flipped through the money, pulling out a couple of bills and stepped forward to grab my right hand, lifting this palm up to smack her own hand down upon this, leaving behind two twenty-dollar bills.
As I gaped at the money, the woman stepped back, this time on the man’s right side, to put her left arm around his waist, as they turned around to walk away from me, heading towards into the brighter lights by the Navy Pier, as the survivors of Sunnydale went off to their hotel, clearly having enough for the day. As they stepped away, Harris turned his head to look over his shoulder at me, nodding his head in farewell, as he called out, “Hey, Dresden, it’s been fun, and maybe we’ll see you again. Oh, by the way, there’s a seafood joint over there, so dig in, fella! Bye!” The beautiful woman walking by his side was seemingly perfectly content to be doing this, as she now moved her arm from around his waist to instead lower her hand, giving his left buttock a very possessive squeeze. As she claimed her property, the Slayer didn’t look back at me, but she casually waved her free hand in her own leave-taking.
I stared after two very unusual people, to then look down at the money in my hand, and again lifted my gaze to search once more for Xander Harris and Faith Lehane, but they’d somehow disappeared in the night. In the next few moments, I don’t think I actually trampled anyone in my dash towards the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant building, but I might have been mistaken.
The next day, after telling my entire story, I glowered down at where Mac was leaning his upper body face-down upon the bar counter, his left hand clutching the far edge of this flat surface, his shoulders heaving, as his other hand clenched into a fist pounded against the top of the counter, all while he howled with laughter. As I brought up my mug with the last of his beer provided in payment for my narrative, I thoughtfully examined the last few mouthfuls of this amber liquid remaining in the glass and I then seriously considered pouring the beer onto his head. However, I firmly disregarded this spiteful impulse, both because it would have been a sacrilege to waste such marvelous beer, and also because true friends have the right to enjoy your idiocy.
Instead, I gulped the last of the beer, and put the empty mug down on the counter by Mac’s still-giggling body. Sarcastically bidding him good-bye, I then mentioned, “Well, I’m so glad you enjoyed all that. Now, I have to get back to my job of catching and exorcising that poltergeist.”
Lifting up his head, with mirthful tears streaming down his cheeks, Mac managed to choke out, “I’m sure we’ll all rest better in our beds, knowing that Harry Dresden is out there, protecting us all.” He then laid his head back down onto the bar counter, and started snorting with laughter again.
During my exasperated irritation as I got off the bar stool and then stalked out of McAnally’s, all while managing to retain a modicum of dignity, I had to agree with myself that it’s a hard life being the only wizard on call in Chicago.
Author’s Note: While thinking over various plots for this story, I began considering the fact that a lot of crossover meetings between characters from different fandoms usually involve situations where The Fate Of The World Is At Stake. So, I just decided to write about something else entirely, with an encounter involving a totally accidental match-up, and the two separate protogonists living their own lives in such prosaic activities as working at their job and taking a vacation. It’s certainly different, isn’t it? And also fun, which is a perfectly good reason for writing this story.
The various places in Chicago referred to in this tale do indeed exist, since I visited them all during my own short vacation to that city several years ago. I had a very good time, so, thanks, Chicago!
Author’s Final Note: My compliments to all those who wrote in commenting on this story and who came close in their guesses on how things would work out. Keep it up, especially since there’s a very good reason for doing so. Yeah, any one of you readers could have had this story specifically dedicated to you, if a lot of you didn’t need a ten-ton wrecking ball with the words “REVIEW MORE!” painted on the front enthusiastically shoved right into your cringing face. Feedback is coin of the realm, people.