templemarker: the dresden files: harry looking surprised. (dresden always)
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Beverly Electric & Light
by templemarker

Notes: For [community profile] ot_chicago, filling the prompt of Beverly, Chicago. I've been to many places in Chicago, but not Beverly, so it was fun to do new research. Harry Dresden gen; this is the first time I've written in the first person since I was 15, but man, the character voice just would not be denied. My grateful thanks to [personal profile] samjohnsson for insightful, thorough beta.

***

The thing about Chicago was that, a lot of the time, you tended to stick around your own neighborhood.

Sure, you ventured to Millennium Park for summer concerts, or Wicker Park for hipster bingo, or Ravinia to make sure the baby dragon sleeping under the stage was warm and quiescent. But in general, for the day to day, basic kind of things you never really left your neighborhood.

Me, I live on the North side, in Irving Park. And I've been living there basically since I got to Chicago, before it started to get all gentrified. It was an Aldi and 7-Eleven kind of place, but now? Now there's a Whole Foods just off Lincoln that always looks packed to the gills whenever I walk by.

Not that I've ever been in there, no-siree, never for the pay-by-the-weight macaroni and cheese. I mean, there's cheap two-dollar burgers and then there's five-cheese freshly made macaroni.

My point, if I could be said to have one, is that the thing that gets me out of my basement-office-Mac's comfort zone is other people. Murphy's house out in the old 'burbs swallowed by Chicago after World War II; the Carpenters all-family-all-the-time neighborhood up in the Northwest; Thomas' apartment in the Gold Coast. And work, of course. Work takes me everywhere at least once--if not for a case, then for constructing Little Chicago.

But just because I've been everywhere doesn't mean I've been everywhere, man. It's one thing to take notes and get your werewolf buddies to print out images from Google Earth for you because you need to hermit in your basement with your masterwork; it's another to get a hot-out-of-the-oven knish from Anastazja's Kitchen and watch the steam pour out of it when you break it in half while you're hunting brownies in Back of the Yards.

All this to say that, while I'd scouted the neighborhood of Beverly for Little Chicago, I'd never had any reason to go down there to spend some time.

That is, until weird lightning storms started magically appearing over the Unitarian church.

Now, two things. First, Chicago has its storms, but we don't have microclimates. If it's raining in North Loop, it's a good bet it will eventually be raining out by O'Hare--and we've been enjoying blue skies for the last month. And second, the Unitarian church is a castle. So, even if Mrs. O'Hanolan hadn't put me on retainer for a hundred bucks and a box of homemade snicker-doodles, I would have taken the case anyway. How many chances do you get to investigate the only castle in Chicago? Not many, even for the one professional wizard in the books.

I put-put-putted the Beetle down the Kennedy and then the Dan Ryan, cruising along at a sweet forty miles per hour that only slipped the gear about five times. Even a little old lady in a Crown Vic gave me a dirty look as she passed me in the slow lane, but it wasn't like traffic was moving all that fast anyway. The Beetle did better on the surface streets, but it would have taken twice as long.

Beverly was a pretty sleepy residential community, all told. Most of the houses were mid-century or earlier, and Wright's architecture and influence was visible. They were well maintained, too, keeping to the colors and tradition of the Craftsman design period. There's a bunch of his houses out here, all historic places in Chicago, and I eyed them as I drove by. If I could wrap this case up, I might even get to take one of those tours. I learned more about architecture and design than I ever meant to know, building Little Chicago. I mean, hey, I read. I go to the Art Institute. I stay away from the video exhibits, but most of their galleries are pretty informative and they let you spend all day in there with your ticket. I like the Architectural Fragments the best, and it's pretty neat to see how Sullivan and Adler influenced Wright, who turned around and influenced the rest of the country.

And it doesn't hurt that the models are more accurate, either.

The Givens Castle couldn't help but stand out, though, and with the luck of the parking gods I managed to find a spot in the lot. I looked up; the sky was clear, only a faint thread of clouds in the direction of the lake. I had a hunch about this case, though, and I figured the best way to test my theory was to go poke the wasp's nest and see what came out. That always seemed to work for me. Or if not work, at least get a result.

It was a Sunday morning, and the church's service was in full swing. For an Irish Catholic neighborhood, the Unitarians commanded a pretty big congregation. I'm not much for any of the Christian variations, and though I have stronger ties to the Catholics through Michael and Father Forthill, I kind of preferred the Unitarians just on principle. They were pretty low-key, even put Buddhist meditation on their calendar. Not that I was ever going to share my opinion with the Knights of the Cross I knew; no point in debating the merits of one version of a story over another when you're always going to be in the middle of a different book, anyway.

I snooped around the grounds, and checked my watch: about 10:45. The thing about detective work is that it's mostly pattern recognition. You find the common thread--the guy who visits the same place every Thursday that's not on his calendar, the woman who automatically debits fifty bucks out of every paycheck without fail--and that's what gets you to the conclusion. In this case, after I'd done some phone interviews with Mrs. O'Hanolan's fellow churchgoers, the minister, and the pianist, I found the thread. Every Sunday, in the first half hour of the service, lightning would suddenly appear in the sky. It also happened on a Wednesday, but that seemed like an outlier I could figure out later on.

Sure enough, after ten minutes of listening to hymns and kicking dirt around the grounds, clouds began to form over my head, and the first faint arc of lightning rent the sky.

"Bingo," I muttered, and picked up the pace. There were two functioning exits out of the ground floor of the building--the front, which all the parishioners would use, and a basement door that was locked from the outside but opened from the sunken floor. I hedged my bets and rounded the far corner of the building just as the first blast of lightning escaped the clouds.

"Fuck!" I said, jumping back slightly--it had touched down a couple of yards in front of me, almost blinding me for a minute. I caught my balance and ran for the door, which had swung open when a body slammed through.

"Wait!" I said, but of course the person didn't listen, just kept on running as I played Hot Potato with the tiny, localized storm. "Eh, fuck it," I muttered, and stopped, planted my feet, and drew my right arm back in a fist.

Sometimes I let the kinetic energy I store in all five rings around my fingers go, if I need to take out a heavy with linebacker moves at fifty paces. But for most people, especially people I just wanted to immobilize and not actively damage, one or two rings worked just fine. I squinted, and figured two would do just to be safe. You never knew exactly what you were dealing with until it started to chew through your face--that was a lesson I learned the hard way.

With a silent command of energy, I let the force of my pointer and middle fingers go, and held my breath as the blast walloped the person running away from me. He--or she--stumbled and fell to the ground, and I looked up to see the clouds receding, the lightning disappearing, as if the Sunday morning had never been anything but a blue-skied spring day.

I trudged over to the culprit and hunched down; the guy was groaning, and I pushed at a shoulder until I could see a face. It was a boy, maybe fifteen or sixteen on the outside, black hoodie covering his head and confusion evident on his face.

"Hey," I said gently, holding up three fingers, "how many fingers do you see?"

"What?" the kid said blurrily, but then seemed to focus enough to glare at me. "Hey, fuck off."

"Yes, exactly, three fingers," I said, and hauled the kid up to a sitting position. His eyes weren't dilated and he didn't seem to have any problem focusing on me, now that he had someone to react to, so I figured he didn't have a concussion.

"Whatever," the kid said, in as good a rendition of moody teenager as I'd ever seen. Or been.

In a move that could only be called graceful among a thousand land-bound ducks, I let myself fall back on my ass and crossed my legs, my duster swirling over my knees. "So, did you start making weird shit happen when you hit puberty? Or were you a late starter, and it only sprung up a couple months ago?"

The kid looked at me like I was a crazy asshole, which some days wasn't all that far from the truth, but ended up going with the sneering route. "What are you, the magic police?" he said, trying for punk and missing it by about a mile of freaked out teenager.

"Sometimes," I said, trying not to laugh when his eyes went really wide. "Not today, though. It's my day off."

"Whatever," he said again, but it wasn't that convincing. He picked at a loose thread in the knee of his jeans, but he didn't move away. That might have been because of the kinetic whammy, but I'd done this enough times by now to recognize a lonely, adrift, freaked out kid looking for some reassurance.

"I'm Harry," I said. "Harry Dresden. And I've been there. It's not exactly Harry Potter--no letter in the mail telling you 'yer a wizard, Harry.' One day, shit starts to happen around you that you can't explain, and for some crazy reason you can't shake the feeling that you're the one causing it. That sound familiar?"

The kid didn't respond for a minute, but then slowly shook his head. "I'm Devon," he said. "Devon Karandikar."

I wrapped my hands around my knees. "Nice to meet you. Yer a wizard, Devon."

He looked up at me and rolled his eyes, but some of the tension went out of his shoulders. "What do I do?" he asked quietly. "How can I turn it off?"

I shrugged. "You can't," I said. "Or, I mean, I guess you can, but then you sign yourself up for a lifetime of repression, and I'm thinking that being able to control the weather is cooler than living by hiding parts of yourself for the rest of your life."

Devon wrapped the string of his hoodie around his finger and didn't look at me. "I don't have to, like, go to some creepy school in Scotland, do I?"

I gave him points for finding some humor in a crummy situation. "No. But we probably need to find you someone to apprentice with. From what I can see, you're strong enough that there's going to be interest in you from others like us, and I'm pretty sure you'd rather get squared away before any people in grey robes come knocking at your door with offers you can't refuse."

Devon looked confused. "Is this wizards or the mafia?" he said.

"Both," I said, and that made him tense up his shoulders again.

"Hey, okay, watch this," I said, and opened the palm of my hand. With a whispered invocation, a ball of glowing energy sucked up from the air around us formed in my hand. It was kind of a like if a snowglobe and a plasma ball mated. Devon watched, and I watched him: he was freaked out for maybe a second, but that quickly switched to awe and interest. He reached out a finger to touch, and just as he was about to make contact I made it disappear.

"Oh," he said.

"Exactly," I replied. "Where are your parents? I'm thinking we need to have a little sit down. Is there a coffee shop or something nearby? I'd rather have this conversation somewhere I don't feel like I'm intruding on someone else's territory."

Devon chewed it over for a minute, but finally sighed and pushed himself up. "They're inside," he said, holding out his hand to help me up. I took it; my knees popped and I tried not to wince at the sound and the weird feeling. "They'll be out after awhile. My mom always comes looking for me when I run out of the service."

"Good," I said. "That gives us twenty minutes to talk about this little thing called control. I know it's a foreign term to you, being a teenaged boy and all, but it's really pretty important."

As I walked him through the basics, the Magic 101 that I teach to the folks on the Paranet and to all of these first responder cases I get, I hoped his parents would understand. Devon had a gift, and I would find him a teacher. Ebenezer had helped me set up a system in North America to funnel these kids we found to teachers before they were assessed by the White Council. It wasn't precisely in keeping with the rules of order, but it was way better than throwing a teenager to the wolves and hoping someone would step up to take on an apprentice. Especially when that wizard could be on the other side of the world, speaking an entirely different language on the day to day.

That was the kind of system I'd needed, back when I'd thrown fireballs at shadows. And whatever else I did, to help out newly minted wizards, I wanted to make sure there was support in place, something that would keep these kids from making bad decisions--or getting bad decisions made for them. It wasn't perfect, and probably would never be as long as the White Council held all the cards, but it was damn better than nothing at all. I watched Devon's face as he made his first tiny energy ball appear on his fingertips, and hoped it would be enough.


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