Characters: Harry, Bob (briefly)
Summary: Harry's not the only wizard in the phone book.
Author's Note: Done for the second challenge @ dresdenflashfic. The theme word was 'theft'.
When I was around 8 or 9, my father and I arrived at a cheap dinner club in California to find we'd been double booked. Two magicians for one run. One run that, even at 8, I knew nobody was going to come and see. The hotel owner was too nice to tell one of the magicians to get lost, so he billed it up as a double act and my dad did the best he could.
On the second night, the other magician, whose name now escapes me, started off the show with one of my dad's tricks. I was furious. Full of an eight year old's rage, I wanted to run out on-stage and stop the show immediately, have him arrested and hung up by his heels. My dad, however, just put his hand on my shoulder and shook his head. He told me that if somebody was desperate enough to steal something, we should feel sorry for him.
I've never quite agreed with that opinion, especially in my older years when I've dealt with thieves of all shapes and sizes and degrees. Sometimes, thieves need to be punished, not pitied. However, I tried to keep my father's advice in mind when the new phone book arrived and I found 'Jake Abbot, Wizard' ahead of my ad.
"Damn," I said, loudly.
I always check the new phone book when it comes. The first time I put my ad out, it proudly proclaimed me to be 'Harry Dresden, Whizzer', which got me all sorts of odd calls until it was fixed. Since then, I've always been a little suspicious of the ad people. Bob emerged from the lab to see what the problem was. He saw me holding the phone book and winced.
"What have they called you this time?" he asked.
"Look," I said, thrusting the book towards him.
"Women's apparel at thrift store prices?" he read, sounding confused.
"No!" I pointed to the ad above my own. "He's stolen my gig!"
Bob read over the ad, which offered the things I did not: parties, performances and other things starting with P in an annoyingly alliterative fashion. He also offered demonstrations for schools and other 'academic societies'.
"Huh," Bob said when he was finished. I could tell he was shocked because Bob never says things like 'huh'. "I never suspected anyone else would have as much gall as you to advertise themselves as a wizard for hire."
"He's not a wizard," I objected. "He's a magician who thinks he's a wizard. If he was a real wizard, he'd know better than to use magic for party tricks."
"Perhaps he did not have a mentor as wise as me," Bob said, modestly. "What do you intend to do about it?"
"I dunno yet. Wait and see, I guess. I can't call him up and tell him to the get the hell out of my section of the phone book."
So I did wait. And I saw. I saw the hundreds of business cards getting passed around and posted on bulletin boards. I also heard the dozen of phone calls I started to get asking if I could please do their child's birthday party because 'that other wizard is booked solid!'. After two weeks of this, when it didn't calm down, I decided I needed to pay a visit to Mr. Abbot.
He had a little office down town, squeezed in with a dozen others in an old building. A colourful sign in his window proclaimed him as 'The Great Abbot', which reminded me uncomfortably of my father. My father wouldn't have used that many Ps in his ad, though.
I knocked and entered. The office was as tiny as it looked from the outside and decorated in a sort of 'magic kitsch' motif, with stars and moons and crystal balls. In the centre of the kitsch was a man who could have been my age or older or younger by a few years. He had a smooth, strong face that made him look young but his hands were worn like someone who'd been around for awhile. You can always tell by the hands. He also had a distinct lack of magic around him. You can feel magic, if you have it yourself, and this guy was in negative integers.
"Welcome," he said, with an expansive gesture. He swung his legs from the desktop where they had been resting and stood up to greet me. "Don't tell me...you want me for your son's birthday party?"
"No, I - "
"Your daughter's birthday party?"
"No, I'm - "
He frowned and searched my face. "Bar Mitzvah?"
"I'm not Jewish and I don't have any children," I headed him off. "My name is Harry Dresden and I -"
"Oh." All pretense of joviality dropped from his face, which went slack with boredom. "I was wondering when you'd drop by. Surprised you didn't get here sooner, actually. Come to intimidate me?" He made little wiggly fingers on 'intimidate', like someone describing the boogeyman.
"Something like that," I said, evenly.
"Well, you can save it. I don't scare easy," he declared, arrogantly. "You can't handle competition, that's your problem, pal. I paid the money, I get the ad. Fair and square."
"I don't care about the ad," I said. "Ad all you want. But you can't bill yourself as a wizard."
He had a very irritating look on his face, like I was some bug he couldn't get off his shoe and I wondered if maybe you could be allowed to hex someone if they were really annoying you. That had to be in the rules somewhere, right?
"Because..." I started, trying to think of a reason that didn't sound like I was a poor sport or crazy. "...you're not one." So much for that tactic.
He snorted. "And you are?"
"Yes," I said. I raised my chin a little. "I am."
He started to laugh, a great booming guffaw. He stopped dead when he saw my expression, however. He switched his smile to a look of pity. I'd seen that look enough times to know exactly what he was thinking. "Poor guy really thinks he's a wizard." His eyes darted to the side. Maybe he should call the cops? Or the crazy house?
"Look, all I'm asking is that you change your title," I explained, calmly. "It confuses people. I help people, they need to be able to find me."
"Those people are yours?" He spat out, surprised. "The ones who have demons trying to steal their children and Satan living in their bathtub? Huh. Well, that would make sense. You're some sort of paranormal expert, then?"
"No," I said, through gritted teeth. "I'm. A. Wizard."
"Right, right," he held up his hands in an appeasing gesture. "You're a wizard. A wizard who helps people with demons in their bathtub." He snorted again, unable to keep a straight face. "Gryffindor or Slytherin?"
Then I punched him. There's nothing in the rules that says I can't punch people. At least, not any of the wizarding rules. He stumbled backwards, slipped on the corner of a silk be-starred sheet draped over a table and landed on his ass in front of me. I crouched by him.
"Listen. There are things out there that you don't want to mess with and billing yourself as a wizard will bring them right to your door. Then, demons in the bathtub will be the least of your worries and I'm not going to help you. So, take my advice and presto-chango yourself into a magician or an illusionist. Leave the wizarding to me. And the next time someone calls asking for your help, send them my way."
For effect, I flashed the lights a little and cast a wind spell to blow the papers off his desk. I called the phone to me and handed the receiver to him. Presentation is everything. My dad taught me that.
"555-2762," I told Abbot, with a smile. "That's the phone number for the Yellow Pages people." I stood up. "You have a good day. Oh, and think up your own material. Nobody likes a thief."
It took about a month for the calls from people wanting to book me to stop. It was strange, I was told, there was no answer at the number for Mr. Abbot. The next edition of the phone book had one ad under the heading of 'wizard'. Harry Dresden, Wizard. Damn straight.