PART THREE: 20th January 2004
Chapter Three: The Regular Birthday Grind
Buffy deftly laid a plate piled high with a hamburger and fries on the table in front of one over-weight regular, managed to wrestle the salt shaker from a giggling teenage boy before he could do whatever nasty little plan he was so obviously thinking up, bent down to retrieve the cutlery that the cute but annoying baby kept pushing to the floor whenever her mother failed to show enough attention, wiped clean a recently vacated table and handed menus to its new occupants, took another order from two tables over and prayed the lunch-time rush would be over before her feet fell off at the ankles or her cheeks snapped from the over-extending fake smile she was paid to give.
Why hadn't she just called in sick for the day? You were allowed to call in sick on your birthday, except she'd used all her sick days up already on demon-bruisage and other related topics, like the sprained ankle of Vampire chasage or the four dislocated fingers of pissing off one very violent Ground-Troll-age. True the injuries didn't slow her down for long, but they left tell-tale signs all over her which tended to make people ask questions and offer leaflets for battered wives shelters.
She tripped over a back-pack on her way back to the kitchen and kicked it in a temper.
"Hey!" Came the cry of the outraged owner.
Jeez, what did the girl have in there? The crown jewels? If she was that worried about it she shouldn't have left it for me to trip over. Buffy ranted inside her head as she offered a polite apology and carried on to collect the next wave of meals.
At this point in time she was definitely rethinking the 'career in food' idea that Willow had brought up. It was time to look into a new career, or at least a move up the food chain. There must be a nice classy restaurant somewhere in the Cleveland area just waiting to employ a waitress-cum-chef-cum-Slayer for say thirty bucks an hour.
Hey, she could dream. She had nearly reached the relative calm of the diner's kitchen and was beginning to daydream about a very different dream she'd had that morning in an effort to make the day a little more bearable when Polly the other waitress called to her from across the noisy room.
"Buffy, telephone call for you."
Telephone call for her, when she was at work; that probably meant something not good. Add her birthday factor into the equation and the probability for not good tripled. Or it could be someone calling to wish her a happy birthday. Normal stuff had to happen sometimes, right? Except everyone who knew her work number had already said happy birthday that morning.
Making her way through the customer-laden tables, Buffy reached Polly, said her thanks and took the receiver. "Hello."
"Slayer!" A low voice growled on the other end.
Spike! Was her first thought as she blinked stupidly at the receiver in her hand. Why was Spike calling her? No, hang on a second . . . how was Spike calling her - dust couldn't dial.
She shook her head. Spike and dust in the same sentence still upset her far more than she ever let on to anyone, but now was not the time. "Who is this?"
"You'll find out tonight." Now that the caller spoke again, Buffy could hear the voice was nothing like Spike's. It was slightly higher in pitch, but no less growly, and she could detect a trace of amusement at her expense which pissed her off. "Be at the alley between 635 West and the museum dead on eight tonight. Come alo..."
"Why?" Buffy cut the anonymous caller off.
"Just do as I say and you'll find out, if you're not there I won't be happy, understand?"
"And why should I care?" She asked in as much of an uninterested tone as she could muster.
"Because if you don't care I'll start taking my anger out on your family. Same thing happens if you don't come alone tonight. In fact, don't even tell anyone what's going on, just so no one tries following you."
"You're bluffing." Buffy stated, but the calm, creepy tone was starting to rattle her just a bit. And bring on the birthday fun.
"You think so? I can see one of them right now. Pretty little sister you've got."
"Stay away from Dawn!" Buffy shouted into the phone causing at least a dozen and a half heads to turn her way. She ignored them all. "If you..."
"Relax Slayer. You be there tonight and give me a little assistance then nobody'll get hurt, if not...well, do you want that on your conscience?"
Buffy had to flex her fingers around the phone to avoid them getting crampy. "Okay, I'll be there. But you gotta tell me your name now or no deal."
"First of all sweetcheeks, you ain't the one making the deal, I am. Secondly - you can call me Agent Fitzpatrick."
"Agent?" But the dial tone was her only answer. "Agent for what?" She asked the empty line anyway while she thought back over the brief exchange for anything useful.
All she had was a place, a time and a name, which when she thought about it was actually quite a lot, but it did her no good stuck here at work, especially if she wasn't allowed to tell anyone.
The bastard had said he could see Dawn. Screw this, she was going home. She went to retrieve her belongings but was stopped by Doreen, the manageress. "What are you doing, Buffy? Your shift doesn't finish for another two and a half hours."
"I know, but I have to get home, something's happened." Buffy hurried to explain without actually explaining as she inched around Doreen.
"Well I'm sorry, but unless it's life threatening you'll have to finish your shift first. I'm trying to be patient with you Buffy, because when you're here you're a good worker, but you're not here anywhere near enough if you catch my drift."
Yep, big drift, dumped straight on me, definitely catching it. Only too aware of how she could so not afford to lose this job, at least until she found another one, she tried again: "But this time it really is important, not that last time wasn't, but this time it's...even more important." She finished with a hopeful smile.
Doreen leaned against the sinks and folded her arms. "So tell me what it is and if I think its worthy of leaving us short-staffed in the middle of the lunch rush, again, you can go without losing your job."
"I..." Buffy wanted to just tell her the truth, that some evil sicko knew it was her birthday and so in keeping with tradition, had decided to taunt her with tales of dead sisters in the hopes it would lure her into a dark alley in Cleveland that evening. That would probably get her sacked for being a mental case anyway so she changed her mind. "My sister's sick."
"What with?" Doreen asked, arms still folded.
"Flu." Buffy's voice sounded very small even to her.
"That's hardly life threatening in this day and age, Buffy."
"No, but she just called and sounded really bad, I'm telling you, this could be a whole new type of flu, a really, really rare one that kills on sight. I could hear the mucus from here and I don't mind letting you know, it scared me silly." Buffy finished her last-ditch attempt and fixed her boss with a full-power pout.
"Buffy, do you like working here?"
"Yes, I love it." She lied easily. "That's why I come in every...almost everyday, it's like my home away from home." Maybe she was applying it a little thick; shoulda left some in the jar for the next time she needed to escape.
Doreen just smiled at her. "If the rush is over by one-thirty you can go, if not we should be back to normal by two so you can go then, okay?"
It was the best she was going to get and keep her job at the same time. She nodded and put her coat back on the rack. "That's really great of you, Doreen. I'll just phone my sister and tell her and then I'll be straight back to the work I love. I'll get these customers fed and outta here before you can say 'lunch rush, what lunch rush?'."
She was about to dash for the phone, but Doreen stopped her. "Take a few of these on your way through?" She indicated the large number of prepared orders waiting to be delivered to hungry customers. "And don't force the food into their mouths any quicker than they can chew."
Buffy gave the older woman a real smile as she grabbed a few of the plates and went through the door. As soon as she'd distributed the plates, hopefully to the right people, she made for the phone.
Dawn picked up after four rings sounding bunged up, out of breath and a little peeved. "About time." She said after Buffy had said hello.
"Why what's wrong, what's happened?" Buffy immediately demanded, coldness creeping up her spine. She heard a shout in the background that was probably Faith. "Are you alright?"
"Um, yeah, yeah I'm good, great even, better anyway, um I just meant I thought you'd call earlier to check I hadn't drowned in snot or coughed up a lung."
"So everything's okay?" Buffy checked again. "Why's Faith yelling?"
"Who knows why Faith does anything?"
That much was true. Well now that she was on the phone, she may as well get a little fix to get her through the next couple of hours. "Can I speak with her for a second?" She could ask her to keep a look out around the house too, see if there were any cars parked in the lane, or demons or soldiers in trees with binoculars.
"No, 'fraid not, she's not here at the moment."
"I can hear her, just put her on."
"She's got her hands full."
"So hold the phone to her ear." Buffy tried to ask reasonably.
"Buffy, aren't you supposed to be at work? Shouldn't you be making coffee bubble and eggs burn?"
"I don't burn eggs!"
"I'll tell Faith you said hi, see you when you get home." Dawn hung up on her.
Damn it. Buffy was just about to redial in the hopes of Faith picking up instead when Doreen caught her eye and gave a disapproving head shake. Sighing, Buffy put down the receiver and went back to work, worrying about who or what this Agent Fitzpatrick was and what he wanted assistance with, and more importantly, why Faith obviously didn't want to speak to her.
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