She stood on my doorstep wearing hot pink shorts and a blouse that looked like an art fair threw up. I almost breathed fire on her just to put her out of my misery. Nothing cures the aftermath of an ethanol binge like dragon-style pyrotechnics. But I played nice. After all, she might have a job for me, though with that artificially whitened smile, I doubted it. Her type didn’t have much use for dragon detectives.

"Yes?" I asked. That was about as nice as I could get with the army of hob-nail-booted pixies dancing a jig in my skull and occasionally squealing, "Mai oui!" in response to her shirt.

"Hi!" she lilted. What was I, a puppy? "We represent the Los Lagos Beautification Committee!"

We? I looked past her at the dirt and broken blacktop parking lot of the warehouse my current situation forced me to call home. All I saw was a very nice but empty Lexus. Anywhere outside my territory, and it’d be gone in a minute. I had no idea who "we" entailed, but I knew it didn’t involve me. Still, I’d give her the benefit of a doubt. "Great. Start on the yard."

"Oh, Mr. Dragon! They told me you were funny!" She pealed with laughter. Yes, pealed, like hyperactive church bells. Now I really regretted the twenty dollars I blew at the Texaco last night.

She took a deep breath, just avoiding a snort. "No, no-no. Although you could use some help."

"You here to give me landscaping advice?"

Again the laugher, happy ice picks doing the Macarena on my eardrums. She patted the air with her hands. Why hadn’t someone eaten her yet? Why hadn’t I?

"Oh, Mr. Dragon! I admire how you can keep a sense of humor, especially in…weeeelll." She cast her gaze about my place with what I’m sure she’d call a Significant Look.

I tilted my head in a Significant Way. Damsels and Knights, I wished I could raise one eyebrow.

"It’s just that, a Beautiful Environment Makes a Beautiful Attitude!"

She treated me to a Beautiful Smile that did nothing to make my attitude more attractive. She even sounded like a toothpaste commercial. I treated her to my can-we-get-to-business-before-I-eat-you look. Who needs eyebrows?

She cleared her throat. "You see. We have a problem, and we think you can help."

A job? I perked up.

"I understand you’ve…scratched some of the buildings in the area."

"Yesssss….?" I flexed one set of claws to admire them. They were good claws. Strong. They made a nice, clean statement that didn’t wash off like Mundane paints. I hadn’t really thought about guard work.

"Well, you’re defacing the exterior!"

"Okayyy…..?" My gaze flicked to the Texaco down the street where I’d had my bender. When I’d first arrived, it was covered with so much spray paint it resembled a bad imitation of Ms. Beautiful Attitude’s shirt, and at least one window was covered in cardboard and 2 x 4s. Now it bore clean windows, shiny paint, and my scratch.

"It simply won’t do!" She declared as she stepped to block my view.

I sighed and met her gaze. "Anybody complaining?"

"The Committee–"

"Anybody around here complaining?"

She brilliant smile dimmed in confusion. "Well, no. But–"

"Those ‘scratches’ mark the area as under my protection. My Territory."

"I realize it might be an instinct thing."

I threw back my head and snorted. She jumped but didn’t back away. Score one for guts. "Do you know the crime rate around Territory?" I demanded.

She tutted at me. "Unacceptably high. That’s why the Los Lagos Beautification Committee wants to foster a more pleasant environment!"

I cut her off before she could quote the brochure. "Do you know the crime rate within Territory?"

"I don’t see what that has to do with anything."

"People don’t mess with places I’ve marked. They’ve got a stronger motivation than beauty. Me." I grinned. It wasn’t my friendly grin.

She paled. "Perhaps some nice signs?"

"’Property Protected by Dragon’? Get serious."

For a moment, I thought she’d slink away, but instead, she crossed her arms and tossed back her perfectly coiffed hair. "We cannot allow you to continue to vandalize property."

I recognized that look. Joan of Arc had used that look. Wondered if they were related. That shirt did look French Impressionistic. Nonetheless, I got the impression "we" didn’t necessarily include the law. "Get an injunction."

"If we must. Good day!" She spun on her expensive hot pink heels and stalked to her Lexus.

I slammed my door just before she slammed hers.

A few minutes later, I started feeling guilty. How annoying. Bad enough I was stuck living among humans until I’d earned back all my dragon power–did I have to develop the ability to feel guilty, too?

I glanced out at my window. Wrappers and garage sale flyers played hide-and-seek among the leaves. No one would dare use my yard as a dumping ground, but there’s no threatening the wind.

Fine. I’d go clean up the trash. Least I could do for Princess Beautification.

I’d swept up a sizable pile with my tail when I heard the screams. Sounded like Ms. Beautiful Environment had gotten into an ugly situation.

I found her in an alley outside my turf, one tough smashing her face against the wall while another was dumpster diving and shouting obscenities. Apparently Princess Moxie had tossed her purse into the garbage rather than give up her keys.

I let out a roar and a burst of fire over their heads. Ah, the sound of screams and fleeing feet! And hey–it cured my hangover, too. I chased them a bit just to make sure they remembered me, then headed back to find my damsel in distress looking with even greater distress at the dumpster. She took a hesitant step, stopped, and whined.

Oh, all right. She’d already had her face smashed against the dirty wall. I fished in the dumpster with my tail for her purse.

"Oh! Thank you!" She pulled wet wipes from it.

"You shouldn’t be here alone. Fine lady like you with a set of wheels like that?" I bit back the rest of my reply. Hard to be sarcastic to someone dabbing away blood and tears with a powder-scented towelette.

"I’m sorry, Mr. Dragon."


"Vern. Thank you." She gave me a clean if watery smile. "People around here depend on you?"

"I take care of what’s mine."

She directed her Significant Look at her car.

I tilted my head in my best puppy-dog imitation. "You sure?"

"It’d make me happy."

Know what? Raking my claws across the back fender of her Lexus made me happy, too.