Four puffs of smoke.

The alleyway showed little signs of life outside its usual vermin.

No man, not even those brave or foolish of the local gangs entered this place. Bad things happened here that left a stain on the concrete that nothing could clean.

It was in the dark place filled with the taint of murder and atrocities that a presence stepped out of what looked like the very shadows themselves.

The abyss of the alleyway hid its newest arrival’s most daring features but as it moved its way into the light of the moon above characteristics formed.

Its long snout oozed venomous smoke from two nostrils, blue tinged scales reflected the moonlight till it looked as if the monster’s armour-like skin were made of sapphires, and its horns grazed the walls like fingernails trailing the sand.

To the laymen this was a dragon, a thing bread out of fables to excite the myths of old and bread terror in those of the middle-ages, but things are not nearly so simple or so easy to explain.

Breathing in the foul air the blue reptile felt a wave of revulsion overcome him. “Why can’t I ever get some place nice?” As a being that sunbathed in the lakes of hell Drake Morningstar could think of a thousand other places he could have preferred than the dark recesses of New York.

Fiji, Hawaii, even out in Las Vegas in the blazing desert would have been better than this freezing hell-hole.

Taking out a cigarette from him long coat Drake allowed himself to curse his fortune.

Cigarettes were a relatively new thing in hell. Most demons stayed away from the things as they were sort of an oxymoron when you gargle brimstone. Up here in the mortal world, so very far from the comforts of home, Drake almost constantly had one in his mouth. His therapist said it had to do with mummy issues, or he did until Drake turned him into kindling.

The blue dragon snorted on the tip of his cancer stick and a wave of heat lit the tobacco inside, sadly it did not have the accuracy of a lighter and most of the cigarette turned to ash, but the day Drake carried a lighter on his person was the day he couldn’t call himself a Morningstar.

Taking a long drag an unhealthy memory of his mother’s breast came to mind, dragon milk was not something every baby could experience but damn if it wasn’t addictive.

Pulling away the cigarette he gazed up at the starless night sky, the luminance from the city was annoying him greatly. His talon feet crushed a glass bottle but he gave it no mind, glass could not penetrate his tough hide, and his prey would not escape his nose.

With nothing else in the alleyway of interest but the smell of death Drake leapt onto the brick wall and dug his claws deeply into the mortar as if they were mud. With muscles capable of turning iron bars into a pretzel Drake pulled his massive weight up the building without much effort.

A curse escaped his maw as he rose up onto the fire escape, the cold was not doing him any favours. Still he did not stop his accession into the night sky, he needed a better vantage point away from the eyes of the humans.

Finally he mad it to the top of the abandoned building but still he felt closed in, the city had changed much since his last visit. The humans had swapped horses for cars and trees for an urban jungles, not even a demon could have seen the sense in this.

Against the skyscrapers the building Drake stood upon was nothing, a simply shack among giants more hungry for attention. If anything, up here in the desolate cry of police sirens and helicopters Drake felt hungry to return to hell.

Breathing in the acid kiss of the city the blue skinned reptile found it difficult to locate his client, but there, in the array of smells one stood above the others, the smell of an old sinner. It did not take long to locate his prey.

One restaurant among many stood out due to its lack of graffiti, apparently his client had at least some pride in his work area.

Drake surveyed his environment taking account of anyone that could be counted as a threat, not to himself as he was sure that nothing short of a building falling on his head could ruin his day, but because he knew that getting caught by anyone outside the clientele was foolish and dangerous. His company already got enough horrible press as it was.

He secretly blamed his company’s head prosecutor Lucifer for hell’s disastrous PR but kept his opinion to himself, the man had enough problems as it was for his drunken behaviour.

Still, it was going to be a problem if Drake put stealth above meeting his client.

The great dragon stood on his legs and looked down at the street below. Without thinking too much about the subject the giant lizard man took a step and began his decent to the world below.

Slots in the back of the long coat opened as he neared the bottom and a pair of massive leather wings unfolded to block out the moonlight above.

It only took one flap to give Drake enough thrust to escape the bone breaking decent, a half a blink to cause Drake to gently touch the pavement with his taloned feet.

With cold, hard eyes he watched the entrance of the establishment for any sign of movement or security. The only event that caused him to take an interest was when a drunk came out from the alleyway next to the restaurant, his nose was bleeding and he was cursing in a rich Jersey accent. Drake could hazard a guess as to the nature of his state.

For all his charm and pleasant demeanour, humans tended to view his kind as less than kind, he blamed this on their racist tendencies. Humans couldn’t even handle a change in each other’s skin tone let alone scales. Grudgingly, he decided to go native.

The designer slots on his back once more opened, allowing his out folded wings to drink in the air. This only lasted a moment as he quickly closed them around his entire bulk. Standing at the front of an electronics store like a blue statue coming to life, Drake was getting into character.

In a flash the wings opened and retreated back inside his, what now stood in the blue dragon’s place was a broad shouldered human male. It was just a simple glamour, nothing that a child of hell couldn’t be fooled by but the apes had this tendency to be as dump as shit when it came to the obvious.

Drake turned back to the glass window to examine his new form.

What stared back at him ice blue eyes was a cross between rugged and handsome and the dragon winced at the hideous thing looking back at him.

If this was what he would look like if he was a shaved monkey, then he could understand why many of the inhabitants in this world were self destructive in nature. “They don’t pay me enough to do this.” He said to himself and hoped no one he knew was evaluating his performance.

Pulling out the only thing he felt as mankind’s only golden achievement, Drake breathed on the tip of his cigarette, causing a flicker of flame to escape his now human lips. The disguised denizen of hell rolled his eyes in bliss as the toxic aroma entered his nostrils. He took not only pleasure in the burning tobacco but also the assurance that soon his job would be done and he could finally get back home.

Drake snorted which was about as close to laughter as his cynicism mind would allow. Hope for an easy job was a rookie mistake, clients rarely accepted paying for past dues. If things were easy some pencil pusher with a friendly smile would be here and not one of his kind.

Growing nearer to the back of the restaurant Drake could here the sounds of the airless apes in conversation. “Can you believe that piece of shit?” A male asked.

“It’s always the same.” Another said. “Extension, tomorrow… Its all bullshit. No respect.”

Drake knew this rhyme all too well, the choir of the debt collectors. Honestly, if it was so impossible to set a time, a date, and pay the agreed upon interest? He laughed, it was a deep rumbling laugh that did not belong to anyone belonging to the human race. What were the chances a client was in the same business as himself?

The thunderous sound of Drake’s laughter caused the two humans manning an steel reinforced door to go for their gun holsters. “Who’s there?” The less obese of the pair asked.

Stepping into the light of the lamp above the metal door Drake showed himself, his human appearance did nothing to settle the humans’ nerves. Drake raised his hand to block out the glare of the lamp. “Am here to see a…” Damn, he forgot the name of the client, knowing full well that this was an unprofessional way of doing things Drake pulled out a card from his pocket and read the name. “Humphrey Palvoni.”

The two men looked to one another, unsure as to what they should do. “And what do you want with the boss?” The larger man asked, his muscles tensing in an attempt to appear more intimidating. It didn’t work.

“It’s purely business.” Drake assured the two but could already see that this was going to turn sour.

The skinny human looked Drake up and down. “You a cop?”

“No.”

“Lawyer?”

Drake confessed he knew a few but tried to stay away from the hole business. He despised paperwork and the typical bureaucrat bullshit others seemed to delight in. He was a creature of the old, harsher world, a throwback from an era where strength mattered. Simple and clean orders, with a pay check at the end of the day, that’s what he liked.

The pair could appreciate this and assumed that Drake was simply another casualty of the economy. The larger of the pair went to frisk the creature of shadow and Drake complied by raising his arms. A less trained agent would have been insulted and put the men in an emergency ward, but Drake had grown used to this lack of trust since the days of saint George. Sometimes in order to get to a client, you had to play by their rules.

The large man frowned as he searched Drakes bulk. At first he assumed that what he was touching was body armour but one closer inspection only pale skin stared back at him. It felt as if the stranger was bigger than he looked.

Drake grinned at the primate’s confused expression and thorough hands. “Do you want me to buy you a drink?”

The large man pulled back revealing the contents of Drake’s pockets. Five and a half packs of cigarettes with a demon girl on the cover and an threatening dagger that looked as if it should be a movie prop. The dragon in human from received a raised eyebrow from the large age that molested him but could only shrug.

A loud bag echoed as the smaller human rapped on the steel door. After a moment a slot on the door open and a pair a hazel eyes peeked out. After an exchange of words the the sound of heavy bolts slid away and the heavy door opened. Gestured to go in Drake didn’t argue, instead he marvelled at human paranoia as he squeezed his bulk through the doorway.

The smell of cooking and heated words were easily heard. Drake shook his head, the last thing he wanted when he got home was to stink of chow mein.

Moving passed the hustle and bustle of a kitchen Drake was escorted to the back room.

The arid smoke of cigars, the stink of illegal activity, the feel of corruption, and the sight of naked flesh. Drake could see that his client wanted to act like a king of his kind but lacked the dignity that came with it.

It was a gambling den equipped with lousy wallpaper, a crooked dealer, cameras, and half naked prostitutes that pleasured the winners of each hand. The only way this scene could get more tacky and depraved was if they played craps with oversized fluffy dice.

The five men at the table looked back and gave Drake a glance, nothing more. Their bodyguards, however, focused their attention sorely on his overcoat. After their quick hand, a deathly overweight individual at the end of the table opened his legs, inviting the bleach blond next to him access.

Drake could tell from her glazed over eyes and the puncture wounds on her arms that she was high. It was probably the only way she could stomach what she did to survive in this world.

“I’m told you wanted to see me.” The overweight man asked, his lips twisting as his girl rewarded him for his winning streak.

The humans simply had no morals, even the most wild dragons have the common sense to not shit where they ate. “Yes. Um, I don’t mean to interrupt you.” Drake said trying to be polite as possible.

“Forget about it. Mister?” His client trailed off inviting Drake to reply with his name.

“Morningstar.” Drake contemplated shaking Humphrey’s hand but thought better of it, he did not feel confident that the humans’ diseases hadn’t crossed the species barrier yet.

“Morningstar.” Humphrey Palvoni twirled the words around his tongue and seemed to accept it. “Do you play cards Mister Morningstar?” He raised his eyes as if waiting for a tell.

Drake didn’t mind a hand or two when he was off duty, but when on the clock it was best to be professional. “Not on business.” Moving his hand to a secret pocket buried under a segment of scales. Drake became assaulted with the barrels of ten different kinds of guns. Seeing a future problem, he slowly drew out a scroll. Tensions did not diminish.

The sound of a cement truck combined with a roaring fire, caused the prostitute on Humphrey’s lap to look over the table at Drake.

“Now, I represent an agency that had dealing with you grandfather… A Oliver Palvoni.” Observing the room Drake could see smirks raising, he had officially been labelled as a lawyer and disliked the feeling.

“And what agency is this?” Humphrey asked with a laugh on his foul breath.

Drake decided to be honest. “Hell.”

Even the bodyguards felt slightly confused. “Hell?” Humphrey repeated.

Nodding, Drake traced the paragraph with his finger. “Yes. Your grandfather opened an account with us for a million dollars US currency in 1948, and labelled 2014 the same time, as the collection date. I’m afraid due to change in value over the years, with interest added in. Your family owes my company eleven million, eighty nine thousand, two hundred, and eighty four dollars. As of ten minutes ago.” He waited patiently for the cash to be presented to him, but doubted it would be this easy.

It was a typical selfish bastard contract. Rather than form a longevity contract and gain a few extra years, Humphrey’s grandfather had wanted to get as much financial debt before he popped off, he didn’t have to wait long as his eating habits caught up to him and he died from a heart attack. And as custom dictated the debt transferred over to his children.

With the wealth the Palvoni gained after receiving the money they could easily split the difference, that’s if they were smart.

Laughter filled the room as Humphrey and the other players could take this joke no more. Curious as to whose idea this was, he looked to his neighbours. “Okay yous guys. Cough it up. Which one off you put the mook up to it?” Denial was all around, nobody was ready to accept responsibility for this obvious prank.

A sigh escaped the dragon and person closest to him brushed his hair, telling somebody to put the heat down. “This is no joke Mister Palvoni. Debt is a serious matter, and I’m afraid that if you don’t have the money, then I will be forced to take your grandfather’s collateral until the funds are gathered.” He read the scroll. “The souls of every member of your family, tortured till all memories and sin are drained from their pitiful ectoplasm, until all funding is brought to agency collector.” Drake could understand his client’s reluctance. Ten million dollars was not something you just hand over to a stranger, especially if he had no knowledge of this transaction. This was the reason he never took out loans.

Humphrey could hear no more of this hogwash. “Take this fucker out side and show him what happens when somebody tries to extort an Palvoni.”

Once more Drake sighed, why couldn’t this be simple? Why couldn’t these humans just pay their dues, or better yet, not get into this situation in the first place? Well it was time to get this show started. Without a fuss two of Palvoni’s men took Drake out of their boss’s sight and out through the door. They didn’t bother going out side, their boss enjoyed the screams of the people that tried to shake him out of his money.

The door closed harshly, meaning there would be no interruptions but from the obvious cries for help. Humphrey smirked and forcefully put his girl’s head down upon his lap, he wanted to enjoy this moment to the fullest. He smiled to the dealer and as the cards fell the sounds of brutality came through the intercom system, somebody was getting the hell beaten out of them.

The door was repeatability pounded on as something heavy was thrusted onto its frame. Somebody was crying for help through the system, strangely it did not sound like Drake’s voice. By the time one of the other guards in the room noticed the change, the door to the illegal gambling den had broken down and splinters of wood rained outward.

The occupants in the room revealed their collective teeth, their instincts telling them that this is a raid by the police or a rival gang. Even the prostitutes dove under the table in the blind hope that they would live to get another narcotic into their system.

Drake saw all of this as he entered the room, dragging the half dead corpse of a beaten man behind him, his cold blue eyes mirroring the annoyance he felt. “Mister Palvoni, I don’t care how you do it, but my company always gets its money back, with interest.” As the blue dragon once more surrounded himself with his leathery wings, bullets filled the air.

Terror didn’t have time to register into the hearts of the men in the room as they instinctualy saw an enemy and let loose their ammunition.

There might have been a subtler way for Drake to make his point, a telephone call, an imp messenger delivering a bill, but none of these had gotten the message through in the past. Violence, that was the only thing the monkeys understood.

As the weight of the lead hailstorm crashed into the ten foot dragon, Drake could only wince. The force was nothing to him but a swarm of flies but it was still annoying and painful if they managed to hit his eye.

If intimidation didn’t make them think for once, then it was time for force. One of the bosses had attempted to squeeze past him and Drake shifted his weight to block him. All it took was a simple shrug and the gangster blood painted the walls.

Thinking that a good old smoke screen would make the gunfire stop Drake spewed out a torrent of foul black smoke, he didn’t desire them dead, as any of these men could become potential customers in the future, as unlikely as it was. The plan however, backfired.

The smoke though non-lethal had caused the guards to hold their mouths and fire blind. One of the prostitutes that was screaming in the corner went silent as her her head burst like an overripe tomato.

Some Einstein who had brought a shotgun to the party closed his tearing eyes and jerked back on the trigger, he only succeeded in turning his boss into gory shrapnel and killing his own brother. Making whatever chance he had for a raise and a Christmas card incredibly slim.

Through his dragon eyes Drake had seen all of this with contempt. They were just begging to be taken over his knee and smacked. Pushing the fools aside, Drake made his way to Humphrey who was amazingly still alive.

Few people know dragon physiology, Oh they know about the fire-breathing, but few know that dragons have special egg pouches behind their backs they used to store their young safely, much like female kangaroos. Strangely, evolution had not removed them.

Going back in he pouches he pulled out two silver handguns, decorated in runes that added a bit of hellfire into each of the rounds, it was time to talk to his client in a calm and business like manner.

The loan shark was pushed back against the wall with enough force to take the air from his lungs and Drake gave Humphrey a good chance to examine his silver weaponry. The fire arms sensed their chance to drink in a human’s fear, and the demonic runes that were etched in their design glowed a burning red, they were begging to send this obese sinner to hell and Drake was tempted to do just that, but first he wanted to try diplomacy just one more time. He dropped his disguise.

Humphrey’s eyes went wide as he saw Drake for what he was, a giant fucking dragon packing a couple of desert eggles. This time he was willing to make a deal. “Okay okay. You want money?”

I want you to pay back the loan you and your family owe my bosses. Or I take your fucking, fat soul.” Drake growled and heard the sound of the bodyguard pumping his shotgun.

You fucking…” Was all the man was able to say as Drake took in a breath and unleashed a blast of blue fire at the Italian that lacked a single grain of common sense.

Hungry flames licked across the man’s body, devouring him in heat and chemical burns. He fired again this time killing the dealer before he ultimately fell into a burning heap.

The idea that hell was real, the religious enquires, and the thought their was a god, all meant nothing as Humphrey Palvoni as he stared down the barrels of Drake’s firearms. “L.listen. Ten million dollars. I don’t have that kind of hard cash on me.” This was the story of every debt collector’s life.

You will get my boss that money Mister Palvoni.” Drake lowered his pistol over his client’s heart.

Wait. What are you doing?”

Showing you what will await you and your family should you not pay up.” Drake fired and it was as if he waved an x-ray machine over Humphrey’s body.

Unable to feel his legs or even his soul Humphrey dropped to the floor like a slab of meat, motionless, and unable to scream or cry.

Drake explained what exactly he was feeling. “That is Hell’s furnace Mister Palvoni. A nuclear reactor that uses souls as coals. Pay or your existence will be heating my bath water.” He snorted and a sliver of smoke burst from his nostrils. “Don’t worry Mister Palvoni, This is of course a family loan you pay as a family or you pay as a family.” He discarded his burnt up cigarette and sheathed his twin weapons. “I’ll see you in a week.”

As Drake turned he returned to his human form, not desiring to cause any more fights until he found Oliver’s next of kin. Overall that little meeting didn’t turn out as bad as he thought it would.

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