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Chapter 5 : Hong Kong Garden
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Sirius looked at his clock. Three o' clock. Three o' clock in the bloody morning. Lily called him from a pay phone in some god forsaken patch of earth where the car her American friend had 'borrowed' without asking from her uncle had broken down in the middle of nowhere at three o' clock in the bleeding morning. And now, he had to wait at the shop and fix whatever the problem was before tomorrow at five o' clock or said American's uncle would probably murder his niece and bring criminal charges against him and Lily. Just dandy.
He was standing in the back of the shop, leaned on his elbows with his back against the counter and his hands dangling in midair. It wasn't terribly comfortable, but it did manage to stretch out the muscles in his shoulder which were terribly sore from the way he'd wrenched it the other day, trying to move his damn tool box out from that corner where it was rather inaccessible. When he'd originally assembled the thing, he hadn't realized that it had wheels, and would therefore roll if the floor wasn't exactly level. Unfortunately for Sirius, floors in mechanical garages are seldom level for draining purposes and no matter how many times he pushed it out of that corner, it always rolled back there, pinning the drawers against the wall and cutting him off from the things he needed to do his job. He had half a mind to push it out and affix it to the floor with a permanent sticking charm, but he figured that active magic in a semi-Muggle shop might be bad news. If the wizarding authorities walked in and saw it sitting there on an incline without anything supporting it, well, it wouldn't look good.
He checked the clock again. An hour since he'd called the wrecker meant that they'd be here any moment. And then he could start in on the car. If it was just a loose engine belt like he suspected, it might only take an hour if he had the part in stock. If not, he might have to surreptitiously use magic. Which wasn't strictly legal, but if Wendy and Lily weren't looking and it would get him home to his flat with the empty rooms and the mattress on the floor with the rumpled covers, he'd take that chance. Saturday was, after all, the only morning he could really sleep in at all. And since he'd been out late, he hadn't gotten that much sleep before the call had come in on the damn telephone. Sirius knew that it was Ministry policy for business owners who provided any goods or services to Muggles to have a Muggle home phone line, but the thing went haywire if he did any magic at home. I had taken him at least three minutes to dig it out from the piles of blankets and pillows he'd covered it with to muffle the noise from the last time.
His ears picked up something of a loud old engine. He lifted his head as if it would make him hear it better and tilted an ear toward the noise. Remus had told him in the past that he looked like a confused puppy when he was listening really intently. He probably did, too, but at least he was able to identify the noise as the wrecker. Sirius pushed himself away from the counter and walked toward the front office. As he reached out to turn the door knob, he found it was turning on its own. He thought he heard the last few words as, "So, be nice," but he couldn't be sure.
"Don't be ridiculous, Lils," someone was saying, "I'm always -" But she stopped speaking as the door thrust open. Sirius looked curiously through the door, past Lily, who looked a little frazzled and saw the someone who had just been speaking, who had brought him to work at three o' clock in the morning after a late night.
"Lilac?" he asked.
"You're Lily's friend, Sirius?" she said, subconsciously patting down the hair that he'd based his nickname on.
Lily looked back and forth between them. "You've met?"
"Lily, you remember when I told you about those tickets James got me for my birthday? They were for -"
"The Clash concert tonight," the three of them finished in unison. There was a moment’s pause in which they all tried to process this coincidence. Then there was a loud honk from outside, and Sirius cleared his throat, squared his shoulders and walked out to meet the driver.
Lily rounded on Wendy. "You didn't tell me you'd met Sirius!"
"Yes, I did! He was the one who bought me my drink."
"But you didn't say it was Sirius!"
"Tigerlily, I hate to break this to you, but I didn't know he was Sirius until a few seconds ago."
Lily looked a little chastened. "Oh," she said.
They both turned their heads to the sound of shouting from outside. Sirius seemed to be peeved with the driver of the wrecker for some reason. Wendy shivered at the tenor of his voice. He sounded like a mad dog. The front door slammed against the wall a couple of seconds later and Sirius marched past them, headed for the garage door. He was mumbling something about people being grumpy. Wendy tried not to laugh at the inherent irony of grumbling about other people being grouchy.
"Well," said Lily, sitting down on one of the two, uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs, "I guess all that's left is waiting."
Wendy didn't cross the room. She just leaned up against the wall and looked through the open door into the shop. She fiddled with the rings on her fingers. There was a clatter from inside, then a muffled curse, and when Lily looked up from the magazine she'd pulled off the counter, Wendy was gone.
Lily stood up, and with a glance to the sign above the door that read, "Employees Only," she followed her pen pal through the door. Sirius was standing with his back to them, with the broadest part of his shoulder firmly pressed against his tool chest, trying to push the thing out of the corner.
"Here, let me help you," Wendy offered, not waiting for an answer. She reached the side outside of the corner and put her hands on either side of it. "On three," she asked, meeting Sirius's eyes.
"On three," he answered her, nodding, "One, two, three."
They heaved, the tool box shuddered, caught and didn't move more than two inches. Wendy shook her head, "What do you keep in this thing, Mr. Black?"
"Mister Black is a prick. I'm Sirius. And I keep tools in it."
"Alrighty then, Sirius. I suggest we try again."
"Right. One, two, three." They pulled or pushed respectively and Lily discretely muttered a spell. The tool box pulled free and began to roll easily.
"Wow. Guess we just had to get it over that bump, huh?"
"Yeah," Sirius answered, swiveling around to catch Lily's eyes. "I guess we did."
Behind Wendy's back, Lily just shrugged and motioned for Sirius to get to work.
"Hang on to that for just a second, okay?" Wendy said, darting off into the office.
Sirius waited until he was sure she was out of earshot. "Lily, what were you thinking? What if she'd seen you do that?"
"She didn't, Sirius. And we need to get this done before she gets into even more trouble."
"That's a long story," Lily began, just as Wendy returned, with a heavy repair manual under each arm, each covered in what looked like a trash liner. She walked over to the tool cabinet, and placed a manual against both of the wheels on the slanted side.
"There," she said. "And they won't get oil all over them either. You should really get a few wedges to stick under those wheels so it can't get back in that corner again."
Two pairs of eyes stared back at her, "What?" she asked, "I was just trying to help."
"Yeah," Sirius nodded, pulling out a tool and heading toward the car. He grabbed his mechanics hanging light as he went. "You two might as well wait in the office. Might be a while."
"You can thank me over breakfast, Lilac."
Wendy quirked a half smile and looked to Lily, "Don't you normally cook on Saturdays?"
Lily sighed, "Not this one. I'm getting to old for this."
Sirius barked a laugh. "Lily, you were born too old for this. You were thirty when you were twelve."
"Fine. I'm definitely not making you breakfast now." Lily crossed her arms and pursed her lips. The overall affect was ruined, however, by her eyebrow sailing up under her bangs. One could obviously tell she was trying not to smile.
"Hey," Sirius started, popping the hood on the car, "Why don't we go to that Chinese place on the corner?"
"Hong Kong Garden? Are they even open for breakfast?"
"Lily, they open at five a.m."
"And you know this because?"
"Long story. Can one of you come over here and rev the engine for me?"
Lily looked to Wendy and then back at Sirius. "I suppose I'll do it." She only barely caught the keys that Sirius flung at her from where he leaned on the front of the car.
As Lily started up the engine, Sirius rounded on Wendy, "You like Chinese?"
"Sure," she affirmed, flinching as the wailing started up again.
"Yeah, that's a loose belt," Sirius commented, and then he called in a louder voice, "Rev it one more time, Lily!"
The engine squealed like a dying pig. Sirius just nodded and muttered something that sounded like, "It's all mermish to me." But Wendy knew it had to be something else; mermish is a nonsense word.
"Well, you're in luck. I have the part. This should be simple."
"Brilliant," Lily chirped, turning off the engine. "We'll just get out of your hair, Sirius."
"Thanks a million."
"You're welcome, Lilac. Just don't forget you owe me that breakfast!"
Remus flipped up his collar, against the mildly chilly morning. It probably wasn't helping him that the moon was waxing toward his least favorite phase. Or that Sirius had called him at six this morning to tell him that there'd been a change of plans. He assumed that Pete would also be on his way, but he hadn't seen him in the walk from the tube station. Peter had never really taken to Apparating, just like Sirius. James had teased them both beyond measure, but neither ever really did succeed at it. Peter hadn't even bothered to get his license.
Normally, Remus would've gone to the station and waited, but something made him want to get to the restaurant as fast as he could. He couldn't have explained it if he wanted to.
He finally reached the corner and looked up the blinking red neon sign that said “Hong Kong Garden”, hardly registering the "Help Wanted" just below it in the window as he pushed the door open. He was greeted by a yell from the corner by the kitchen that told him he was by far the last person there.
"Remus," Sirius bellowed, filling the small, empty restaurant with the sound of his voice. They were gathered around a big round table with a lazy Susan piled with food in the middle. Remus was surprised to find that Pete had beaten him there and that the was a second extra seat open, between Sirius and Lily, clearly claimed by the leather jacket draped across the back.
"Sirius," he greeted, belatedly, "Who's your friend?" He nodded toward the empty chair.
"Actually, she's Lily's friend and a new customer."
"What? We're closed on Saturdays."
"Yes, well. It's a special case when Lily calls you, panicking, at three in the morning."
Lily banged her glass on the table and raised her voice in protest, “I wasn't panicking!"
"Oh, no," Sirius corrected, "Pardon me. You didn't panic until we'd nearly reached her uncle's house and the road was closed for the parade route."
"Well, you didn't fair too well either until she pointed out there was a back way," Lily pointed out, before eating a little more of her egg-drop soup.
"But who is she?" Remus cut in, "I take it she's a Muggle?"
"A what?" Wendy asked. She had returned with a piece of black cloth over her arm.
"Is that an apron?" Sirius dodged, changing the subject quickly.
"Yeah. I'm working here now."
"What?" Sirius and Lily chimed in together, and then looked at each other surprised.
"Well, I've got to pay off this breakfast," Wendy explained, gesturing to the full spread on the table, "And I need a job anyway. I've got to pay rent to my uncle. And I have a repair bill to cover. I mean, it's only part time on Saturdays and Sundays and the hours are hellish, but the pay's good."
"Don't worry about that repair bill to much for now," Sirius assured, "You can pay in installments. It's not even that much money." Remus fixed him with a glare across the table, but Sirius waved it away. "Besides, I know where you live, so I can track you down if you try to duck me. Now, come tell us why that concert was so important to you that you had to steal your uncle's car and drag Lily along with you."
"Because it was a Clash concert," Wendy sighed exasperatedly, as if this explained everything perfectly.
"Wait, you too?" Remus questioned, then looked around at everyone around the table, "I'm surrounded."
Peter chuckled, "You're going to have to accept it sooner or later. We're not asking you to like it."
Sirius slung his arm around the back of Wendy's chair conspiratorially, "See, Remus doesn't like punk rock..."
"Ah," Wendy breathed. "That's okay. I - what's the difference between empathize and sympathize?"
Lily piped up, "I think in this case you sympathize. What do they teach you in those American schools?"
"Oh, you know, the three 'r's," Wendy answered, carelessly. She took a sip of her orange juice.
"I think I speak for everyone when I ask, what are those?" Peter prompted, looking baffled.
"Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic," responded Wendy, with a country drawl.
"Oh dear," Remus intoned a little weakly.
"I'm certain she's just kidding, aren't you, Wendy?" Lily pressed.
"Now whatever could you mean?" Wendy shot back, this time in the honeyed tones of a proper Southern accent. She held a straight face for only a moment before smiling and reverting to her normal tone, "I mean, I bet they teach us everything they taught you, except for American history instead of British history and American Literature instead of Brit Lit."
"Where exactly are you from?" Remus asked suddenly.
"Well, all over, actually. My father," spat that word out with some vitriol, "works for a national chain. Whenever they're not earning a good profit margin from a particular area, they send him there to fix it. I've lived in Alabama, California, Texas, and New York most recently."
"And you came to England because?"
"Land of my forefathers and home of my pen pal, Lily. Why do you ask?"
"Just curious. Guess you haven't been hearing the news much across the pond?"
"What news?" Wendy asked, quirking her head to the side.
Remus made eye contact with first Sirius, then Lily. "Let's just say it's not the best time for travelers here in the UK. The streets aren't quite as safe as they used to be."
"You mean like gangs?" Wendy fished, "Because I dealt with those in New York."
"You could call them that. But I don't think you've dealt with anything like them before."
Lily made sure Wendy couldn't see her, and shook her head. "We shouldn't talk about anything that serious right now, Remus. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Remus gave her a withering look but held his tongue. There was a bell from the front of the restaurant. Wendy jumped up and tied the apron around herself and approached the four guys who had just entered the room.
"Can I help y'all?" She asked. The one in the front muttered something indistinguishable and she showed them to a table, disappearing into the kitchen for a moment before returning with menus and asking for a drink order. Lily and the others looked on with some fascination as she went through the motions as if she had done it every day of her life.
She rounded on them, "Mind if I clear up a little?"
"No," Sirius responded, apparently the first to recover from her abrupt transition. "Hey, you done this before?"
"Not really. But it can't be that hard, can it? Plus, I don't have to worry about working for tips. Would y'all like a couple of to-go boxes for those platters?"
"Sure." As she carefully stacked the plates and headed through the swinging kitchen door, Lily turned to Remus.
"We can't give her any hints about the war, Remus," she hissed, "No one among the ordinary Muggles knows what's going on. And she's already seen enough to figure us out."
"She has?" Remus peered over at her, where she was taking down the orders of the other customers on a pad of paper that she’d just pulled from her pocket.
"Yeah," said Lily, "It's like she explains everything away for us."
"She's either really gullible or she has a common sense explanation for everything." Sirius added.
"Maybe it's a bit of both," Lily concluded. Wendy had just started toward them with the take out boxes. She smiled as she distributed them, and she reached in her pocket to pull out some fortune cookies. Then, she turned to the new customers who'd just come in ringing that darned bell.
"Do you think she's going to be safe? I mean, she won’t do anything this reckless again, will she?"
"I hope not."
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