He lights his twenty-seventh cigarette for the evening and ignores the fact that his fingers are already yellow from the nicotine and tar. The stale smell of cigarette smoke hangs around him like a perfume. I ignore the stink and focus instead on what I came here to do. I close my eyes as the match flares and steadies into a slightly dancing flame. The strong tang of the matchstick mixes with the haze.
"So, tell me more about yourself," I try to smile as I talk but I still feel like I shouldn't be here. The man before me was not someone whom I felt was worth being given additional attention. Not after what he had done to them. Done to the three women who were important in his life prior to being locked in prison.
"Wouldn't you rather hear about the women?" the man muttered back and I winced. He smiles, seeing my reaction and I inwardly slap myself for failing to retain a detached demeanor. Dragon , they called him for both his terrible chain-smoking habit and for the way he had killed the three women in his life. His wife. His step- mother. And the third...
The third was the worst of them all.
His mouth, dry from the repetitive act of sucking on the barely efficient filter and blowing out the poisonous blue haze, opens to allow his darker tongue to dart out and moisten his lips. I supress a shrudder when I notice in disgust the cigarette actually clings onto his lower lip rather than fall down to the ground. He takes a drag and blows out a cloud of smoke that seems to hang low and linger before allowing the rays of the light to become visible from the window behind him.
"Very well," I wore the facade of calmness and remembered the directions I was given. Stay calm. Act interested. Let him talk. Eventually, he will slip and say something. Something we want him to admit. It was the least comfortable thing I could do at the moment, but it had to be done. "Let's talk about the women, shall we?"
He smiled. His yellowing teeth were like tombstones in a fog. He moistened his lips a second time, then took the cigarette from his mouth with his left hand. His right hand darted up to his face, thumb digging into his nostril for a quick scratch before he spoke.
"We can start with my wife. She was the first one I killed after all," he grinned like a schoolboy proudly proclaiming that he had aced some test. I raised both eyebrows with a well-rehearsed rendition of interest and nodded at him to proceed. He pushed his tongue out, against his upper teeth, then made a smacking sound before continuing, "Livia was a bitch, she was. A control freak too. I tell you, something as simple as having a shag had all these fucking rules that had to be followed. And to think, we were a married couple too. Livia had what you would call a phobia you see... she was scared of them germs and bacteria and viruses. In the air. In the water. In the other person's blood. It was some hang up she had which I thought meant she was a careful and clean gal; you know what I mean? And that attracted me more to her. Made me want to marry her."
I failed to realize that I had furrowed my brow. The Dragon stared at me for a moment and, when I failed to notice he was waiting, eventually decided to ask directly.
"Something in the story you don't think is real?"
"Oh no," I straightened up, cursing myself for forgetting to maintain my composure again. I could already imagine the department laughing at me when the time came to review my performance. How can you properly learn to gather information if you can't present yourself constantly as someone willing to receive it? "I was just thinking if there was a word for that - for that kind of phobia."
"Mysophobia," the Dragon replied, "She always wore gloves when we were outside of the house. And she never liked picking anything up bare-handed, especially if that was something that fell on the ground or was wet."
"Must have been tough," I offered. He laughed. "It was hilarious. Anytime there were things I didn't want her nosing about or looking at, I'd simply drop it to the ground or leave it damp," he shook his head and took a deeper drag of the lit cigarette, "Predictable and pathetic whore."
"You killed her because she didn't want to get her hands dirty?" I asked, and only realized in hindsight that I sounded judgmental. The last thing I wanted to do was give the Dragon a reason to no longer want to talk with me. That would have been the death of both the interview and my hopes of ever having a career in this industry.
"No," he snickered, and immediately I felt both relieved that he wasn't insulted and disturbed that I was happy to know I did not insult a known murderer. He took one last drag on the cigarette, pulled out another from the pack on the table with his free hand, then exhaled the swirling cloud of smoke as he replaced the lit but almost burnt out cigarette in his mouth with the new one had just drawn. He used the lit one to light the new cigarette and took another drag before continuing his story, "No, I killed the bitch because she lied to me. Even after everything I had put up with her. The bitch was so afraid of them fuckers that we never kissed lips to lips. She was afraid there were viruses in the blood too, you see. Always demanded I wore a rubber when we had sex too. And not just one cock shield. Two of them. I tell you, fucking the fist was far better than doing it with that bitch."
He clamped both palms together, taking a few puffs between sentences, as he excitedly continued the tale. I found myself disturbingly amused with his story and anxious to know how it ended.
"So, one time, I waited for her to fall asleep. She never stayed up late and I used to think I could spend those hours just surfing for the next website to fill my spank bank. You follow? But there came one night in particular I felt I had enough. We were married. We had the rings. I be damned if I didn't get some puss. I waited for her to fall asleep, then mounted her and kept her from screaming by leaving both hands clamped on her neck. Didn't even realize that I had broken it until after I came a second time. Guess I got a tad carried away, considering it was the first time she got my rocks off in years!"
He started laughing. I was speechless. My throat felt uncomfortably dry. My neck felt itchy. Or perhaps it was just something psychosomatic. I reminded myself of the reason I was here and gave a nod of detached interest. To play it right. Play it smooth. Show interest but don't force myself to fake actual curiosity. That shatters the trust. Makes them realize you're paying them for fools. Let them think you want to hear what they have to say. Even share what you know to engage them to saying more.
"So when you realized she was dead, you locked her body in the cellar, gathered up her jewelry and hoarded them in your cabinet to pawn for money whenever you needed another influx of cash," I offered, sharing what I recalled reading in his file. What I did not mention was the fact the wife was not discovered to be dead until two weeks later. She was a housewife with no friends. No one noticed she had vanished.
No one save the two other people.
"I guess them bitches do share their traits. What was the term for that? Hereditary? Livia was a class act, all right, but only because her mother was an even bigger act herself," he grinned and took another long drag on the cigarette he held. I found myself squinting for a moment to try and relieve a stinging sensation that suddenly exploded around my eyes. I told myself it was the cigarette smoke. Just the cigarette smoke.
"I mean, people got their weirdness right? Everyone does. You got some liking to saddle up with other guys. You got them feet lovers. Them leather skanks. Even those cross-dressing senators and priests," the Dragon counted them off with his yellow fingers, starting with the pinkie. I noticed how some fingers actually had signs of having been burnt and healed over. Rough skin. Callused skin and dirty nails. I returned my focus on his eyes and was surprised to find what I saw in them. "Everyone has their quirks and their secret flavors. I am sure even you have one of your own, don't you?"
I smiled and opened both hands to non-verbally say I had none. I didn't have the focus to think of one that moment. I was too distracted by the pride I saw gleaming in his eyes.
"Livia's mother..." the Dragon pondered on a moment, scratching his chin with his hand as he finished off the cigarette and squashed it on the ashtray beside his pack of cigarettes, "...her name was Eros or something... she had this thing for Jesus. And I don't mean a thing like those Opus Dei weirdoes who hurt themselves to feel God loves them. I mean a thing thing."
I looked up at him, uncertain.
"A Thing," he repeated once more. And when he noticed I still didn't get it, he decided there was no way to say it but bluntly. "She gets off at the image of Jesus. Sexually. She actually had this life-sized poster of him. Some modern rendition of him wearing jeans and a light blue polo, sitting on a motorcycle. She'd stare at it and imagine all sort of things."
He caught me off guard. I waved at him to stop and realized I was genuinely laughing. Deep inside my head, I was wondering what the hell I was doing.
"Amused, I take it?" he hissed, finding my laughter unexpected.
"Sorry," I admitted and tried to gather my breath between sentences, "Just the idea that she found Jesus sexually stimulating. Reminded me of Madonna. Back in the nineties. Like a Virgin music video."
He grinned. I connected. It was sick, but it was there. And more frighteningly was the fact I wasn't faking it.
"How did you even find out about it in the first place?"
"Oh caught her a few times," he admitted and stabbed his nearly spent cigarette on the ashtray. He lit a new one even before the next sentence ended, "Livia and I stayed over her place for a few weeks when we first got hitched. Had to save up. Honeymoons always cost an arm and a wing."
I found his reference odd. Maybe he was enjoying his nickname too much.
"So after Livia was - shall we say indisposed - or should that be undesposed," another chuckle. I found myself giving a soft chuckle in response without thinking, "I paid her mother a visit. Made sure to grow my bread first of course. Some men barely have a bush on their faces. Me, I grow one in four nights. Give me a week and I can look like the Messiah." He ran a hand against his chin and slid it to wipe against his nose. I noticed the smoke lazing danced around his hand before drifting away. "Knocked on the door and when she answered in her bathrobe I realized Livia owed me enough that her mother could handle payback. So I stripped my shirt as I walked in and told her to kneel for forgiveness. The bitch knelt like some obedient schoolgirl. You could tell she was getting off it real good. Probably been waiting for me to do that ever since she saw I could grow a beard."
He drifted off then. He stared at the wall and took long relaxed drags on the cigarette. He played with the smoke as it exited his mouth, twirling his tongue to make the smoke dance in small whorls.
I remembered the record. The two had consensual sex twice in the house. Then when she began to feel guilty about having done it with her son-in-law, she asked about her daughter and he responded by beating her to unconsciousness. He then carried her to the roof, tied her hands to the antenna, tied her legs spread eagle and raped her under the bare night sky. The neighbors only noticed her on the rooftop when a boy accidentally noticed her mutilated remains while searching for alien life in the night sky. That was five days after she died.
"She was something," the Dragon muttered to himself and crushed the cigarette into the over-flowing ashtray. He looked at me and studied me, knowing we had finally reached the last story. The one that everyone wanted to ask about.
The one he never explained.
I knew I had to keep him talking. To figure out if he did deserve what was coming.
He interrupted me with a scream. He yelled at me about how there was no child. How it wasn't his. About how she wasn't even human. He screamed and thrashed and kicked and at one point slammed his body against the table so hard the ashtray flew off and scattered its many little crushed orange butts to the floor. The security came in and quickly forced him back down on his seat. One pulled out a pair of handcuffs, ready to force him down. He raised both hands, covering his face, and told them he was calm. Told them he was calming down.
The guards looked at me for approval. I motioned to them they could go.
The report stated that the Dragon had another victim in his murderous spree. The wife, Livia, was pregnant at the time. Though from the Dragon's admission, the child could not be his own, having always had overly protected contact. The baby was enough months old to have a humanoid form, but Livia was the kind of woman in the world whom didn't evidently look pregnant even if she was. Supposedly, the Dragon was revisiting her rotting body on odd occasions. Claimed even the stench aroused him. Forensics believe the body was violated at least six more times in the three weeks it was slowly rotting in the basement. It was near the end of the fourth week when the Dragon mounted the now disintegrating corpse when the stomach ripped open and revealed its secret passenger.
What happened that day remains uncertain.
The report claims that the Dragon savages the corpse of the child, attacking it with a shovel he found in the basement. Some believe it was a form of jealously, realizing that his wife had copulated with someone else. Others, however, suspected that it was a form of self-hatred. Perhaps the child inside reminded him that he could have been a father. Or worse, maybe in some twisted way, he believed he was the father of the child.
"Not human," I asked, deciding to focus on his words and get him to talk again. For the longest time, no one could get the Dragon to discuss what had crossed his mind that night.
In his panic, the Dragon had run out of the house still covered in blood and viscera. Ultimately he had revealed himself to the authorities and was found guilty on the spot. I had only today to speak with him. Three nights from today, he was to receive the death penalty for the atrocities he had committed.
I had to know, however. I had to know.
"Not human?" I repeated. And perhaps the Dragon sensed his time was running out. Or perhaps at last he found someone who seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say at a more personal level. Did he realize how right he was?
"Scales. The child had scales. And fangs. Yellow fangs. A tail," he mumbled and shakily tried to light another cigarette. I lost count how many he had lit since we started the interview. But I finally got the confirmation I needed.
"It had wings," I offered and he turned to me with eyes that grew the widest they could. Sweat began to dot his face. His hand trembled so bad that the smoke seemed like tiny staircases that drifted slowly skyward.
"You.. you believe me..."
"I know," I replied and allowed my facade to fall. The Dragon stared at my yellow pupils. At my scales. At my great and deadly fangs. I flexed my back and allowed my wings to spread just enough to be noticed. I slid my tail beneath the table and had it tap his foot. The Dragon was too scared to stand however, realizing he was facing something that was much closer to his nickname than he was. I allowed a small hiss of smoke to escape my nostrils. They would mix with his smoke, after all. "Once in a while, a pure woman in the world finds herself bearing a dragon child. We used to collect virgins for that reason you see. Our eggs are laid within humans even before they are born. And those eggs only mature if they are inside a host that remains pure. Livia was one."
He failed to notice he dropped the cigarette onto his shirt. It began to burn a hole in his collar. It began to sizzle his skin.
"That child was one of us. And you murdered her. We don't really care about the virgin. Or her mother. But the child..."
He finally felt the sharp pain of the cigarette burning his skin and swatted it away. I licked my tongue out against my sharp fangs and blew him a gust of warm sizzling air. The cigarette on the floor glew brighter as the embers caught the breeze.
"I've been tasked to check if you did kill the child. Or if the child's death came simply after the mother died. I would presume your reaction does support the report that you used the shovel, I shook my head."
He inhaled sharply, ready to scream the word monster. But I have heard enough. One single breath was all it took and the cigarette in the floor ignited the nitrogen-rich plume I released. The Dragon screamed as he caught fire and painfully burned. I reverted back to my human guise even before the security arrived and was escorted out of the prison for my safety.
Spontaneous combustion, they called it. Said it was frighteningly common, especially on criminals who had killed some unborn child.
God's wrath, they even suggested.
I smiled and walked away.
Not God, I thought.
This is my rejected entry to Vinnie's Dragon Anthology collection. Oh well. Back to the drawing board I guess. Hope you enjoyed reading it though.