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One of the little burdens I bear as gracefully as I can manage is the fact that of the six Hugo Awards decorating my office, none of them are for writing. My work as an editor, first at Analog and then at Omni, has greatly overshadowed my work as a writer. Like Orson Welles, who has always maintained that he is an amateur actor and a professional director, I have always considered editing a temporary part of my life. Writing is my life.

I was very flattered, then, to have one of the writers I “discovered” while editing Analog—Orson Scott Cardask me to contribute an original story to an anthology he was creating. It was a pleasure to publish Scott’s first short stories and novelettes in Analog. But when he asked me to contribute to his planned anthology about dragons I was nonplussed. Dragons? In science fiction? No matter what my dear friend Anne McCaffrey might have said, dragons are the stuff of fantasy, not science fiction. They are aerodynamically impossible and biochemically illogical. A giant flying reptilian that breathes flame? Not science fiction of the kind I write! No sir!

On the other hand, there is more to the world than hard-and-fast literary categories, and I got this niggling idea of how a dragon might be useful to certain kinds of people I used to know when I was growing up in the narrow streets of South Philadelphia.

Writers are always told to write about what they know, so I invented the world’s first—and probably last—Mafia dragon.

* * *

The thing that worried Vince about the dragon, of course, was that he was scared that it was out to capture his soul.

Vince was a typical young Family man. He had dropped out of South Philadelphia High School to start his career with the Family. He boosted cars, pilfered suits from local stores, even spent grueling and terrifying hours learning how to drive a big trailer rig so he could help out on hijackings.

But they wouldn’t let him in on the big stuff.

“You can run numbers for me, kid,” said Louie Bananas, the one-armed policy king of South Philly.

“I wanna do somethin’ big,” Vince said, with ill-disguised impatience. “1 wanna make somethin’ outta myself.”

Louie shook his bald, bullet-shaped head. “1 dunno, kid. You don’t look like you got th’ guts.”

“Try me! Lemme in on th’ sharks.”

So Louie let Vince follow Big Balls Falcone, the loan sharks’ enforcer, for one day. After watching Big Balls systematically break a guy’s fingers, one by one, because he was ten days late with his payment, Vince agreed that loan sharking was not the business for him.

Armed robbery? Vince had never held a gun, much less fired one. Besides, armed robbery was for the heads and zanies, the stupids and desperate ones. Organized crime didn’t go in for armed robbery. There was no need to. And a guy could get hurt.

After months of wheedling and groveling around Louie Bananas’ favorite restaurant, Vince finally got the break he wanted.

“Okay, kid, okay,” Louie said one evening as Vince stood in a corner of the restaurant watching him devour linguine with clams and white sauce. “I got an openin’ for you. Come here.”

Vince could scarcely believe his ears.

“What is it, Padrone? What? I’ll do anything!”

Burping politely into his checkered napkin, Louie leaned back in his chair and grabbed a handful of Vince’s curly dark hair, pulling Vince’s ear close to his mouth.

Vince, who had an unfortunate allergy to garlic, fought hard to suppress a sneeze as he listened to Louie whisper, “You know that ol’ B&O warehouse down aroun’ Front an’ Washington?”

“Yeah.” Vince nodded as vigorously as he could, considering his hair was still in Louie’s iron grip.

“Torch it.”

“Burn it down?” Vince squeaked.

“Not so loud, chidrool!”

“Burn it down?” Vince whispered.


“But that’s arson.”

Louie laughed. “It’s a growth industry nowadays. Good opportunity for a kid who ain’t afraid t’ play with fire.”

Vince sneezed.

It wasn’t so much of a trick to burn down the rickety old warehouse, Vince knew. The place was ripe for the torch. But to burn it down without getting caught, that was different.

The Fire Department and Police and, worst of all, the insurance companies all had special arson squads who would be sniffing over the charred remains of the warehouse even before the smoke had cleared.

Vince didn’t know anything at all about arson. But, desperate for his big chance, he was willing to learn.

He tried to get in touch with Johnnie the Torch, the leading local expert. But Johnnie was too busy to see him, and besides Johnnie worked for a rival Family, ‘way up in Manayunk. Two other guys that Vince knew, who had something of a reputation in the field, had mysteriously disappeared within the past two nights.

Vince didn’t think the library would have any books on the subject that would help him. Besides, he didn’t read too good.

So, feeling very shaky about the whole business, very late the next night he drove a stolen station wagon filled with jerry cans of gasoline and big drums of industrial paint thinner out to Front Street.

He pushed his way through the loosely-nailed boards that covered the old warehouse’s main entrance, feeling little and scared in the darkness. The warehouse was empty and dusty, but as far as the insurance company knew, Louie’s fruit and vegetable firm had stocked the place up to the ceiling just a week ago.

Vince felt his hands shaking. If I don’t do a good job, Louie’ll send Big Balls Falcone after me.

Then he heard a snuffling sound.

He froze, trying to make himself invisible in the shadows.

Somebody was breathing. And it wasn’t Vince.

Kee-rist, they didn’t tell me there was a night watchman here!

“I am not a night watchman.”

Vince nearly jumped out of his jockey shorts.

“And I’m not a policeman, either, so relax.”

“Who—” His voice cracked. He swallowed and said again, deeper, “Who are you?”

“I am trying to get some sleep, but this place is getting to be a regular Stonehenge. People coming and going all the time!”

A bum, Vince thought. A bum who’s using this warehouse to flop.

“And I am not a bum!” the voice said, sternly.

“I didn’t say you was!” Vince answered. Then he shuddered, because he realized he had only thought it.

A glow appeared, across the vast darkness of the empty warehouse. Vince stared at it, then realized it was an eye. A single glowing, baleful eye with a slit of a pupil, just like a cat’s. But this eye was the size of a bowling ball!

“Wh . . . wha . . .”

Another eye opened beside it. In the light from their twin smolderings, Vince could just make out a scaly head with a huge jaw full of fangs.

He did what any man would do. He fainted.

When he opened his eyes he wanted to faint again. In the eerie moonlight that was now filtering through the old warehouse’s broken windowpanes, he saw a dragon standing over him.

It had a long, sinuous body covered with glittering green and bluish scales, four big paws with talons on them the size of lumberjacks’ saws. Its tail coiled around and around, the end twitching slightly all the way over on the other side of the warehouse.

And right over him, grinning down toothily at him, was this huge fanged head with the giant glowing cat’s eyes.

“You’re cute,” the dragon said.


“Not at all like those other bozos Louie sent over here the past couple of nights. They were older. Fat, blubbery men.”

“Other guys . . . ?”

The dragon flicked a forked tongue out between its glistening white fangs. “Do you think you’re the first arsonist Louie’s sent here? I mean, they’ve been clumping around here for the past several nights.”

Still flat on his back, Vince asked, “Wh . . . wh . . . what happened to them?”

The dragon hunkered down on its belly and seemed, incredibly, to smile at him. “Oh, don’t worry about them. They won’t bother us.” The tongue flicked out again and brushed Vince’s face. “Yes, you are cute!”

Little by little, Vince’s scant supply of courage returned to him. He kept speaking with the dragon, still not believing this was really happening, and slowly got up to a sitting position.

“I can read your mind,” the dragon was saying. “So you might as well forget about trying to run away.”

“I . . . uh, I’m supposed to torch this place,” Vince confessed.

“I know,” said the dragon. Somehow, it sounded like a female dragon.

“Yes, you’re right,” she admitted. “I am a female dragon. As a matter of fact, all the dragons that you humans have ever had trouble with have been females.”

“You mean like St. George?” Vince blurted.

“That pansy! Him and his silly armor. Aunt Ssrishha could have broiled him alive inside that pressure cooker he was wearing. As it was, she got to laughing so hard at him that her flame went out.”

“And he killed her.”

“He did not!” She sounded really incensed, and a little wisp of smoke trickled out of her left nostril. “Aunt Ssrishha just made herself invisible and flew away. She was laughing so hard she got the hiccups.”

“But the legend . . .”

“A human legend. More like a human public relations story. Kill a dragon. The human who can kill a dragon hasn’t been born yet!”

“Hey, don’t get sore. I didn’t do nuthin.”

“No. Of course not.” Her voice softened. “You’re cute, Vince.” His mind was racing. Either he was crazy or he was talking with a real, fire-breathing dragon.

“Uh, what’s your name?”

‘‘Ssrzzha,” she said. “I’m from the Polish branch of the dragon family.”

“Shh . . . Zz,” Vince tried to pronounce.

“You may call me ‘Sizzle,” the dragon said, grandly.

“Sizzle. Hey, that’s a cute name.”

“I knew you’d like it.”

If I’m crazy, they’ll come and wake me up sooner or later, Vince thought, and decided to at least keep the conversation going.

“You say all the dragons my people have ever fought were broads . . . I mean, females?”

“That’s right, Vince. So you can see how silly it is, all those human lies about our eating young virgins.”

“Uh, yeah. I guess so.”

“And the bigger lies they tell about slaying dragons. Utter falsehoods.”


“Have you ever seen a stuffed dragon in a museum? Or dragon bones? Or a dragon’s head mounted on a wall?”

“Well . . . I don’t go to museums much.”

“Whereas I could show you some very fascinating exhibits in certain caves, if you want to see bones and heads and—”

“Ah, no, thanks. I don’t think I really wanna see that,” Vince said hurriedly.

“No, you probably wouldn’t.”

“Where’s all the male dragons? They must be really big.”

Sizzle huffed haughtily and a double set of smoke rings wafted past Vince’s ear.

“The males of our species are tiny! Hardly bigger than you are. They all live out on some islands in the Indian Ocean. We have to fly there every hundred years or so for mating, or else our race would die out.”

“Every hundred years! You only get laid once a century?”

“Sex is not much fun for us, I’m afraid. Not as much as it is for you, but then you’re descended from monkeys, of course. Disgusting little things. Always chattering and making messes.”

“Uh, look . . . Sizzle. This’s been fun an’ it was great meetin’ you an’ all, but it’s gettin’ late and I gotta go now, and besides—”

“But aren’t you forgetting why you came here?”

Truth to tell, Vince had forgotten. But now he recalled, “I’m supposed t’ torch this warehouse.”

“That’s right. And from what 1 can see bubbling inside your cute little head, if you don’t burn this place down tonight, Louie’s going to be very upset with you.”

“Yeah, well, that’s my problem, right? I mean, you wanna stay here an’ get back t’ sleep, right? I don’t wanna bother you like them other guys did, ya know? I mean, like, I can come back when you go off to th’ Indian Ocean or something.”

“Don’t be silly, Vince,” Sizzle said, lifting herself ponderously to her four paws. “I can sleep anywhere. And I’m not due for another mating for several decades, thank the gods. As for those other fellows . . . well, they annoyed me. But you’re cute!”

Vince slowly got to his feet, surprised that his quaking knees held him upright. But Sizzle coiled her long, glittering body around him, and with a grin that looked like a forest made of sharp butcher knives, she said:

“I’m getting kind of tired of this old place, anyway. What do you say we belt it out?”


“I can do a much better job of torching this firetrap than you can, Vince, cutie,” said Sizzle. “And I won’t leave any telltale gasoline fumes behind me.”

“But . . .”

“You’ll be completely in the clear. Anytime the police come near, I can always make myself invisible.”


“Sure. See?” And Sizzle disappeared.

“Hey, where are ya?”

“Right here, Vince.” The dragon reappeared in all its glittering hugeness.

Vince stared, his mind churning underneath his curly dark hair.

Sizzle smiled at him. “What do you say, cutie? A life of crime together? You and I could do wonderful things together, Vince. I could get you to the top of the Family in no time.”

A terrible thought oozed up to the surface of Vince’s slowly-simmering mind. “Uh, wait a minute. This is like I seen on TV, ain’t it? You help me, but you want me to sell my soul to you, right?”

“Your soul? What would I do with your soul?”

“You’re workin’ for th’ devil, an’ you gimme three wishes or somethin’ but in return I gotta let you take my soul down t’ hell when I die.”

Sizzle shook her ponderous head and managed to look slightly affronted. “Vince—I admit that dragons and humans haven’t been the best of friends over the millennia, but we do not work for the devil. I’m not even sure that he exists. I’ve never seen a devil, have you?”

“No, but—”

“And I’m not after your soul, silly boy.”

“You don’ want me ta sign nuthin?”

“Of course not.”

“An’ you’ll help me torch this dump for free?”

“More than that, Vince. I’ll help you climb right up to the top of the Family. We’ll be partners in crime! It’ll be the most fun I’ve had since Aunt Hsspss started the Chicago Fire.”

“Hey, I just wanna torch this one warehouse!”

“Yes, of course.”

“No Chicago Fires or nuthin like that.”

“I promise.”

It took several minutes for Vince to finally make up his mind and say, “Okay, let’s do it.”

Sizzle cocked her head slightly to one side. “Shouldn’t you get out of the warehouse first, Vince?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, sure.”

“And maybe drive back to your house, or—better yet—over to that restaurant where your friends are.”

“Whaddaya mean? We gotta torch this place first.”

“I’ll take care of that, Vince deary. But wouldn’t it look better if you had plenty of witnesses around to tell the police they were with you when the warehouse went up?”

“Yeah . . .” he said, feeling a little suspicious.

“All right, then,” said Sizzle. “You just get your cute little body over to the restaurant and once you’re safely there I’ll light this place up like an Inquisition pyre.”

“How’ll you know . . . ?”

“When you get to the restaurant? I’m telepathic, Vince.”

“But how’ll I know . . . ?”

“When this claptrap gets belted out? Don’t worry, you’ll see the flames in the sky!” Sizzle sounded genuinely excited by the prospect.

Vince couldn’t think of any other objections. Slowly, reluctantly, he headed for the warehouse door. He had to step over one of Sizzle’s saber-long talons on the way.

At the doorway, he turned and asked plaintively, “You sure you ain’t after my soul?”

Sizzle smiled at him. “I’m not after your soul, Vince, you can depend on that.”

The warehouse fire was the most spectacular anyone had seen in a long time, and the police were totally stymied about its cause. They questioned Vince at length, especially since he had forgotten to get rid of the gasoline and paint thinner in the back of the stolen station wagon. But they couldn’t pin a thing on him, not even car theft, once Louie had Big Balls Falcone explain the situation to the unhappy wagon’s owner.

Vince’s position in the Family started to rise. Spectacularly.

Arson became his specialty. Louie gave him tougher and tougher assignments and Vince would wander off a night later and the job would be done. Perfectly.

He met Sizzle regularly, sometimes in abandoned buildings, sometimes in empty lots. The dragon remained invisible then, of course, and the occasional passerby got the impression that a young, sharply-dressed man was standing in the middle of a weed-choked, bottle-strewn empty lot, talking to thin air.

More than once they could have heard him asking, “You really ain’t interested in my soul?”

But only Vince could hear Sizzle’s amused reply, “No, Vince. I have no use for souls, yours or anyone else’s.”

As the months went by, Vince’s rapid rise to Family stardom naturally attracted some antagonism from other young men attempting to get ahead in the organization. Antagonism sometimes led to animosity, threats, even attempts at violence.

But strangely, wondrously, anyone who got angry at Vince disappeared. Without a trace, except once when a single charred shoe of Fats Lombardi’s was found in the middle of Tasker Street, between Twelfth and Thirteenth.

Louie and the other elders of the Family nodded knowingly. Vince was not only ambitious and talented. He was smart. No bodies could be laid at his doorstep.

From arson, Vince branched into loan-sharking, which was still the heart of the Family’s operation. But he didn’t need Big Balls Falcone to terrify his customers into paying on time. Customers who didn’t pay found their cars turned into smoking wrecks. Right before their eyes, an automobile parked at the curb would burst into flame.

“Gee, too bad,” Vince would say. “Next time it might be your house,” he’d hint darkly, seeming to wink at somebody who wasn’t there. At least, somebody no one else could see. Somebody very tall, from the angle of his head when he winked.

The day came when Big Balls Falcone himself, understandably put out by the decline in his business, let it be known that he was coming after Vince. Big Balls disappeared in a cloud of smoke, literally.

The years rolled by. Vince became quite prosperous. He was no longer the skinny, scared kid he had been when he had first met Sizzle. Now he dressed conservatively, with a carefully-tailored vest buttoned neatly over his growing paunch, and lunched on steak and lobster tails with bankers and brokers.

Although he moved out of the old neighborhood row house into a palatial ranch-style single near Cherry Hill, over in Jersey, Vince still came back to the Epiphany Church every Sunday morning for Mass. He sponsored the church’s Little League baseball team and donated a free Toyota every year for the church’s annual raffle.

He looked upon these charities, he often told his colleagues, as a form of insurance. He would lift his eyes at such moments. Those around him thought he was looking toward heaven. But Vince was really searching for Sizzle, who was usually not far away.

“Really, Vince,” the dragon told him, chuckling, “you still don’t trust me. After all these years. I don’t want your soul. Honestly I don’t.”

Vince still attended church and poured money into charities.

Finally Louie himself, old and frail, bequeathed the Family fortunes to Vince and then died peacefully in his sleep, unassisted by members of his own or any other Family. Somewhat of a rarity in Family annals.

Vince was now Capo of the Family. He was not yet forty, sleek, hair still dark, heavier than he wanted to be, but in possession of his own personal tailor, his own barber, and more women than he had ever dreamed of having.

His ascension to Capo was challenged, of course, by some of Louie’s other lieutenants. But after the first few of them disappeared without a trace, the others quickly made their peace with Vince.

He never married. But he enjoyed life to the full.

“You’re getting awfully overweight, Vince,” Sizzle warned him one night, as they strolled together along the dark and empty waterfront where they had first met. “Shouldn’t you be worrying about the possibility of a heart attack?”

“Naw,” said Vince. “I don’t get heart attacks, I give ’em!” He laughed uproariously at his own joke.

“You’re getting older, Vince. You’re not as cute as you once were, you know.”

“I don’t hafta be cute, Sizzle. 1 got the power now. I can look and act any way I wanna act. Who’s gonna get in my way?”

Sizzle nodded, a bit ruefully. But Vince paid no attention to her mood.

“I can do anything I want!” he shouted to the watching heavens. “I got th’ power and the rest of those dummies are scared to death of me. Scared to death!” He laughed and laughed.

“But Vince,” Sizzle said, “I helped you to get that power.”

“Sure, sure. But I got it now, an’ I don’t really need your help anymore. I can get anybody in th’ Family to do whatever I want!”

Dragons don’t cry, of course, but the expression on Sizzle’s face would have melted the heart of anyone who saw it.

“Listen,” Vince went on, in a slightly less bombastic tone, “I know you done a lot to help me, an’ I ain’t gonna forget that. You’ll still be part of my organization, Sizzle old girl. Don’t worry about that.”

But the months spun along and lengthened into years, and Vince saw Sizzle less and less. He didn’t need to. And secretly, down inside him, he was glad that he didn’t have to.

I don’t need her no more, and I never signed nuthin about givin’ away my soul or nuthin. I’m free and clear!

Dragons, of course, are telepathic.

Vince’s big mistake came when he noticed that a gorgeous young redhead he was interested in seemed to have eyes only for a certain slick-looking young punk. Vince thought about the problem mightily, and then decided to solve two problems with one stroke.

He called the young punk to his presence, at the very same restaurant where Louie had given Vince his first big break.

The punk looked scared. He had heard that Vince was after the redhead.

“Listen kid,” Vince said gruffly, laying a heavily be-ringed hand on the kid’s thin shoulder. “You know the old clothing factory up on Twenty-Eighth and Arch?”

“Yessir,” said the punk, in a whisper that Vince could barely hear.

“It’s a very flammable building, dontcha think?”

The punk blinked, gulped, then nodded. “Yeah. It is. But . . .”

“But what?”

His voice trembling, the kid said, “I heard that two, three different guys tried beltin’ out that place. An’ they . . . they never came back!”

“The place is still standin’, ain’t it?” Vince asked severely.


“Well, by tomorrow morning, either it ain’t standin’ or you ain’t standin.’ Capisce?”

The kid nodded and fairly raced out of the restaurant. Vince grinned. One way or the other, he had solved a problem, he thought.

The old factory burned cheerfully for a day and a half before the Fire Department could get the blaze under control. Vince laughed and phoned his insurance broker.

But that night, as he stepped from his limousine onto the driveway of his Cherry Hill home, he saw long coils of glittering scales wrapped halfway around the house.

Looking up, he saw Sizzle smiling at him.

“Hello, Vince. Long time no see.”

“Oh, hi Sizzle ol’ girl. What’s new?” With his left hand, Vince impatiently waved his driver off. The man backed the limousine down the driveway and headed for the garage back in the city, goggle-eyed that The Boss was talking to himself.

“That was a real cute fellow you sent to knock off the factory two nights ago,” Sizzle said, her voice almost purring.

“Him? He’s a punk.”

“I thought he was really cute.”

“So you were there, huh? I figured you was, after those other guys never came back.”

“Oh Vince, you’re not cute anymore. You’re just soft and fat and ugly.”

“You ain’t gonna win no beauty contests yourself, Sizzle.”

He started for the front door, but Sizzle planted a huge taloned paw in his path. Vince had just enough time to look up, see the expression on her face, and scream.

Sizzle’s forked tongue licked her lips as the smoke cleared.

“Delicious,” she said. “Just the right amount of fat on him. And the poor boy thought I was after his soul!”

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