The Dragon is a dick.
This probably goes without saying. I mean, what kind of person insists on being called the Dragon? Only a total dick. QED. But it makes me feel better saying it, and in this line of work you gotta hold on to the little victories.
A lot of mistakes need to happen for you to find yourself in a golf cart on top of an artificial hill in the middle of a corn field. I load my elephant gun and take another swig of cheap-ass vodka. The corn is all lit up by the full moon. It’s muggy. Hell, it might have been a nice night, circumstances aside. I sit back, the vodka burning a little hole in my stomach, and contemplate where life would have taken me if I’d actually paid attention in High School Algebra.
It occurs to me I may be putting the cart before the horse again. Linearity has never been a strong suit of mine. (Reference the repeated flunking of Algebra for corroboration) Back up to three nights ago. I’m walking in the back door of Lemon’s Chicken Shack. The place stinks of old grease and chicken fat. Christ only knows when they last cleaned out the friar. They opened in ’47, so it can’t be any longer than that.
The fry cook gives me the old stink eye and knocks the ash off of his stogy onto the floor, which is the color of mud. I nod and the SOB turns his wide back to me. He’s like a cat, only ugly and unlovable. I consider making an anonymous call to the health department just to stir shit up and decide against it. There’d be “repercussions,” and I’m already on the Dragon’s shit list.
I open the door to the basement and walk down the steep wood staircase to a bureaucrat horder’s hell of waterlogged paper stacks, overflowing file cabinets and one very, very ancient computer nearly surrounded by equally ancient ledgers on top of a tank of an old gray metal desk. I don’t even want to know how they got it down here. Someone had to have died.
The computer’s operator is sitting there at the desk. I don’t know her name. For all I know, she could be the Dragon, though that strikes me as unlikely. I suspect if you meet the Dragon, a thea a thea a thea a that’s all, folks. I call her Eunice. Not to her face, mind you. I’m dumb but I ain’t that dumb.
“I hear there’s an assignment for me.”
Eunice arches a penciled in eyebrow at me. I’ve never been called a numb fuck with so few words. It’s an art form, really. The silence between us is filled up by the snapping of her gum. She hands a sealed, grimy manila envelope to me. It’s fat as fuck. I start to open it.
“Not here.” Eunace says. “At home.”
I look at her. She’s not in a playful mood, so I do what I’m told for a change, not that it ends up doing me a lick of good.
There’s a viscous suck now rattling out of my lungs every time I try to take a breath and a smell coming off me that doesn’t bear thinking about. Last time I checked beneath the bandages, I thought I saw something moving under the skin. I really want to think it’s the fever turning my brain into suet, but I still got that damn manila envelope next to me and all those pictures.
I know better.
Holy water didn’t do a damn thing. Neither did iron or silver or crucifixes. All of it was bunk. Can’t say as I’m surprised. Still, it would have been nice to find out all those holy rollers weren’t lying about something.
Of course, to be perfectly fair, you might reckon an Elephant gun to work where the trappings of faith fail, and you’d be dead wrong there as well.
The things you don’t want to find out the hard way. Can I get an amen?
Shit, I’m not done yet. Got to keep focused. There isn’t much time left. I can feel that thing turning in me.
I get home twenty minutes after leaving Lemon’s. A train runs behind my house, rattling the geriatric plaster walls, the card table, the collection of spent beer bottles next to the futon. I sit down and stare at that manila envelope like the outside’s going to tell me something.
The rattling subsides. It feels like I’m being watched. I can feel eyes pressing in on me. Probably just all the coffee I’ve been swilling all day finally catching up. I slide my finger under the outer edge of the envelope and rip upwards.
Some things you don’t want to be alone when you look at them. They seem less real with other people milling about. I look into these flat, dead eyes and wish to God I’d never gotten in debt to the Dragon.
There are lots of pictures in here. Mostly of victims. Details about hunting patterns. Possible nesting sites. Goddamn, as close as they had to be to take these, couldn’t someone have taken it out?
I spend the next few hours setting my affairs in order, then setting up a game plan so I can maybe get out of this alive and paid, even.
The Silver Bullet gun shop and shooting range is my first stop. It’s early in the day. Meg’s the only person there. She’s tapping away at her computer when I walk in. Her electric purple hair is pulled into a disheveled knot on the top of her head. It’s not usually a look for a forty-five-year-old gun shop employee, but Meg’s got the advantage of being a Very Useful Person. That has a way of defusing the standard objections.
I slide a list across the desk, and Meg stops her conquest of Candy Crush long enough to take a gander. She seems displeased. None of it’s the kind of thing you find locked behind the standard displays. None of it’s illegal for the simple reason the law don’t know it exists.
“This is going to take some time to pull together, and I’d need to put an order out for the death lilies. No way in hell I’m keeping something like that in stock.”
I shrug. “Get me what you got. I guess I’ll have to make do.”
She shakes her head and disappears into the back room. A while later she comes out with a brown paper shopping bag. I peak in and take a look at the goods. The glint of a silver dagger and large caliber bullets loaded with a cocktail of silver powder and nightshade catches my eye.
“I don’t even want to know what the Dragon’s got you hunting,” Meg says. “But I hear Newfoundland’s real nice this time of year.”
Meg’s got a gift. Part of why the Dragon has her doing what she’s doing. I know some who consult her regular. Me, I’m the kind of gal who favors the ignorance is bliss school of thought. Still, she’s giving off a witchy vibe.
“Sweetheart, I get out of this alive and I might just pick you up and take you there. Though my money’d be on someplace a little more tropical.”
“Nobody gets out alive. Not even you.” Her voice is flat. Jesus, I wish she’d pick up my banter. But there’s this thing sitting between us, and I can’t help myself. I just gotta pick at it.
“Are we speaking in a cosmic or a specific sense? Because it makes a difference.”
“Does it? Are you asking?”
I grit my teeth and nod yes.
“Suit yourself.” She sighs and pulls a small jewelry box from beneath the counter. It’s had the gray coating peeled off, exposing the fabric and metal underneath.
Meg opens that tore up jewelry box and takes out a handful of small bones and pebbles. Junk, if you didn’t know any better. I watch her blow into her hand and toss the assortment onto the glass counter. She winces. Her face sags.
“You’ll be paying off your tab before you go.” She says, sounding every bit her age.
“That good.” I see tears collecting at the corner of her eyes. We are not emotional people. The display unsettles me. I find a place on the wall to look at.
Well, ain’t that some shit.
“All right then.” I take a roll of hundreds out of my pocket and start counting. “Anything I could do to turn this thing around?”
“All sorts of things you could do. You won’t do any of them. So I might as well save my breath.”
“I suppose I deserve that.”
That’s where I leave. I catch her expression in the mirror above the door, a mix of anger and disappointment. Sure, I could run. But there’d be consequences, and I got debts to pay.
There’s a Polish butcher’s shop a couple blocks away from the gun shop. I go in and buy a bucket of blood and another bucket of tripe, a bag of oranges, some Crisco and a pound of cow brains. The clerk, a pimply nineteen-year-old kid, checks me out without question. It’s a bit disappointing. I have to admit, the Crisco I just added in for shock value. I console myself by getting a quart of cheap vodka for the road.
After dark, I steal a golf cart from Peplinski’s Family Fun Sports Center for no better reason than the owner used to beat my ass in junior high, and I like the idea that he might be forced to deal with inconvenient questions from the law after this night’s work is done.
The moon’s peeking out from behind a thin slip of clouds when I get to the top of the hill. I crack open the oranges and mix them with the pig’s blood, the tripe and the brains and make a trail of the stuff from the corn field up to the top of the hill. I spend the next two hours trying to find the delicate balance between inebriation and competence that will keep me from turning tail.
It’s quiet out here. I can hear the wind hissing through the corn and the sound of my own breathing. The adrenaline starts to burn off and my eyes get heavy.
A high pitched sing song twists its way around my inner ear. My eyes shoot open. It’s standing there in a patch of moonlight ten feet in front of me. A slight boy with sandy hair and flat, cold eyes. Looks to be about five. It’s staring at the bucket with the leftover tripe and brains, and then it looks up at me.
If I’m wrong. If the Dragon is wrong. Shit. There are some things you just don’t walk away from.
A single maggot drops out of the little boy’s nose and into the dust. I turn the gun on it and pull the trigger.
The world goes silent. The thing wearing the little boy skin splits in half. Inside it is a mass of swarming maggots and darkness. It lunges for me, keening loud enough to pierce my deafness. I reach for my backup, the silver dagger, but I am not quite fast enough. Fast enough to do the job. Not fast enough to avoid the scything claws, the slow poison.
I wait in the safe house and watch my body fall apart from the inside. Three days I wait. And then I hear a car pull up. Another professional. Time to tie up loose ends. Hell, at least my debt’s paid off.