“What are we waiting for?” Chris asked, staring at me from the passenger seat of the car.
I shifted in the driver’s seat. “Lorenzo told me to wait across the street. He’s a little paranoid about people visiting his house, so he’ll come to us.”
“Sounds a little shady if you ask me,” Chris said. He turned his head and surveyed the street.
“You okay?” I asked.
“You seem a little nervous.”
Chris met my gaze. “I know someone who lives around here. Someone I’d rather not bump into.”
“What are you buying from this Lorenzo guy anyway?”
“Why are you changing the subject?”
“I’m not,” Chris said. “It’s a legitimate question.”
I contemplated. “A big rock.”
“You and your rock collection. I don’t know what your fascination is with them.”
“We all have our interests.”
“I guess.” Chris peered out the window again. “Is this your guy?”
I dipped my head and looked through the windshield, getting a better view of the street. A man was walking in our direction.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s Lorenzo.”
“You weren’t kidding when you said big. The box he’s carrying is huge. Are you sure it’s a rock and not a boulder?”
I let out a chuckle, watching as Lorenzo approached the passenger-side window.
“Why’s he coming to my side?” Chris asked.
“Just put down your window.”
Chris huffed but obliged. Lorenzo bent over and eyed me through the open window.
“Hi, Ray,” he said.
“You have the money?”
“Of course.” I glanced at Chris. “It’s in the glove compartment.”
Chris took the hint. He opened the glove compartment, removed a white envelope, and then gawked at me.
“Let me see the contents,” I said to Lorenzo.
Lorenzo opened the top flaps and tilted the box, a large oval-shaped rock resting inside.
“Looks good,” I said. “Give him the envelope, Chris.”
Lorenzo put the box on the ground and grasped the envelope. He perused the contents for a moment and nodded, stuffing the envelope in the back pocket of his jeans. “Where do you want this?”
“In the back,” I answered.
I popped the trunk. Lorenzo disappeared behind the car, appearing again after closing the trunk. He sidled up to Chris and gave me a final glance.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ll be in touch if I come across any others.”
Lorenzo walked away, and I was about to start the car when Chris distracted me.
“Oh, crap,” Chris said.
“Who?” I asked.
“The guy you know?”
A young, dark-haired man was walking his chocolate Labrador Retriever. He crossed the street, quickly moving in our direction.
“What do you want me to do?” I muttered.
“I’ll deal with this,” Chris said.
Andre stopped and lowered his head to look inside, the dog whimpering beside him.
“Quiet,” Andre said. He looked to Chris. “What did you just buy, bro?”
“Why’s it matter?” Chris said.
“Because you owe me money. If you have money to buy something, then you have money to pay me back.”
“I didn’t buy anything.”
“Do you think I’m blind?” Andre said.
“It’s the truth,” I interrupted. “Do you know Lorenzo?”
“Not well,” Andre admitted.
“Well, I just bought something from him. Chris gave him the money, but it was mine. Not his.”
Andre’s brow furrowed. “What was in the box?”
“Nothing you’d be interested in,” I said.
“I’ll determine that. Let me see it.”
“It’s not going to happen.”
The dog started to whine again.
“I said to be quiet,” Andre snapped, raising his voice at the dog. Then he lifted his shirt, revealing a gun in the waist of his jeans. “I’m not asking. Tell me what’s in the box. Or have your boy pay me. Either way, I’m not leaving empty-handed.”
“I don’t have any money on me,” Chris said. “I’ll pay you as soon as I can.”
Andre shook his head.
“How much does he owe you?” I asked.
“A few hundred dollars,” Andre answered.
I pondered. “If I had it on me, I’d pay you myself.”
“Then I’ll take what’s in the box.”
“You don’t even know what it is.”
“It’s obviously something of value. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be trying to hide it.”
“Sorry,” I said, “but the box is staying with me.”
“Then we have a problem, don’t we?” Andre said, scanning the street.
I didn’t notice anyone else around, and Andre must have come to the same conclusion, because he didn’t hesitate in pulling the gun from his waist.
“Open the trunk,” he demanded, pointing the gun at me.
“You don’t want to do this,” Chris said. “Trust me.”
Andre turned his attention to Chris. “And why would I trust you? You haven’t made good on your promise. If you don’t give me what I want, I’ll put a bullet in you. And your friend.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Oh, yeah.” The corner of Andre’s lips turned up, and he offered a crooked smile. “And why’s that?”
My face began to tingle. Then came a tugging sensation as my skin stretched and took another shape. A growl escaped my mouth.
Andre’s eyes went wide. “Holy—”
Andre’s index finger hugged the trigger of the gun, but his dog let out a cry and bolted. Andre lost his grip on the leash, nearly falling on his butt. He backed away, holstered his gun, and took off after the dog.
Chris’ shoulders bobbed from laughter.
My head morphed back to human form. “This isn’t funny.”
“It kind of is,” Chris said. “It’s not everyday that people get to see a shapeshifting dragon. Especially Andre.”
“You know I prefer to keep it under wraps. I only did it because you got us into this mess.”
Chris shrugged. “Fair enough. It is my fault. But the look on his face was priceless. You have to admit it.”
“Time to get out of here,” I said.
Chris rolled up his window as I put a foot to the gas pedal. When I looked in the rearview mirror, Andre was still chasing after his dog, the two of them shrinking in the distance.
“How much did you pay for that rock anyway?” Chris asked.
“More than what you owe Andre,” I said.
“Jesus. Are you kidding me?”
I didn’t reply.
“What kind of rock costs that much money?” he said. “Is it from outer space or something?”
I deliberated. I’d never told Chris the truth about my collection, so perhaps it was time.
“It’s not a rock,” I admitted. “None of them are.”
Chris squinted at me. “Then what are they?”
I cleared my throat. “Fossilized dragon eggs,” I finally said.
“Does Lorenzo know you’re a dragon?” Chris asked.
“Yeah, but he’s cool about it. It’s why he tries to help me with my collection.”
Chris sat back in his seat and exhaled. “I had no idea.”
“I have my reasons for it, but you probably wouldn’t understand.”
“That it’s hard masquerading as a human. In an effort to blend in, I take human form most of the time, so this collection of mine is a way for me to connect with my roots. I don’t want to lose sight of who—” I paused. “I don’t want to lose sight of what I really am.”
“I guess I can understand that.” Chris chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“I don’t think Andre will ever forget what you really are.”
Chris stared at me and laughed, and I couldn’t help but join in his amusement.
Kevin has dabbled in many genres over the years. A couple of his stories have been contest/award winners, and Kevin’s work has appeared in more than twenty anthologies. You can learn more about Kevin by visiting his website at http://www.kmhopson.com.