Thus at six o’clock the next evening when Joe and Nat came out of the house and got into Natalie’s Fiat for their regular night at the cinema with an Oriental banquet to round off; a figure stood quietly watching them from the shadows of Jolly’s driveway. Joe teased Natalie and she giggled gleefully, Joe was back to his old self after his scare. They belted in and at two minutes after six she pulled the car out of Joe’s driveway, turning left and headed into town.
The figure remained where he was, a small orange spot glowed from the end of his cigarette. He’d finish his fag first and then to business; for another ten minutes, just on the off chance that those two lovebirds might have forgotten something and need to come back for it he stood quietly smoking looking little more than a silhouette of a well built man.
As his watch ticked round to quarter past six Steve flicked the butt of his cigarette away, it cartwheeled in the air trailing orange sparks. He bent and picked up his shoulder bag and crossed the road to Joe’s house. He approached the front door, didn’t look too much of anything, plain uPVC frame with the top of the door down to a foot level letter box opening a frosted glass sheet that meant Steve couldn’t see anything inside except shadowy shapes. He looked the glass over in the half light of a yellow street lamp, given current building regulations he was pretty sure this glass panel would be a laminated, maybe even armoured glass, probably no good to try and break the panel then. Maybe he could force the lock? He reached into his bag and pulled out a medium sized greasy paper wrapped package. He unwrapped it to reveal a thick cut beef steak, he’d bought it late that afternoon raw and still oozing blood.
“Here you go poochie…” Steve smiled, he liberally sprinkled a powder over the steak and rubbed it in, “come get the nice steak and then you can have a little sleep while uncle Steve looks for those pretty gold coins.”
Steve, as has been noted already, was a hardened criminal, had been since his teens. He had a record sheet that left some older criminals whistling low in respect, those who didn’t usually found problems whistling for the foreseeable future. Steve may have been violent too, but he was a man who had his standards and one of his biggies was not causing harm where none needed to happen. Yes, he would put the frighteners to people, he would break limbs and cause cuts and bruises a plenty, but these would be to emphasise that he was in charge more than just an act of wanton violence. Many of the people he frequented with would have just poisoned the steak to kill the dog, but to Steve that wasn’t required when he could just put the stupid mutt to sleep for a nice long doze. He smeared the powder all over the steak, the powder being crushed sleeping tablets and all things being equal that mutt should be out for the count in about ten minutes, after eating the steak. Steve smiled to himself and with a careful thumb levered open the letterbox before cramming the steak through onto the doormat. “Here boy!” he called through the slot, “come and see what uncle Steve got you.”
Draco, hearing the noise, rose from his place by the fire and uncertainly approached the front door. He stood looking out, the unfamiliar voice at the door had woken him from a light doze, he’d heard everything Steve had said, more importantly he understood everything Steve had said. Draco’s coat glimmered with a golden sheen in the darkness, “Fuck me…” Steve gave a low whistle, Paul had been right that dog was unusual! “Here you go boy come and have this nice steak uncle Steve bought for you this afternoon. See how fresh it is? Mmm you know you want it don’t you?”
Draco took a step closer and sniffed the steak, did this human think he was that stupid or gullible? If Draco had been a genuine dog he’d have probably eaten the steak without thinking about it…and then ten minutes later been sound asleep!
But Draco wasn’t a dog, he was a gold dragon and that meant a level of intelligence much higher than any dog, apparently much higher than this human too...indeed significantly higher than any other living thing on the planet. Draco sniffed the meat again warily, there was an aroma to it he didn’t know. He smelt the beef certainly, and beef he had to say was not his favourite meat, he preferred a decent lamb or mutton cut to beef. The powdered sleeping tablets though had an odour and that made him wary. He knew that if he ate the steak he’d be put to sleep so of course he had no intention of doing so. However at the same time Draco was acting as a dog and this man expected him to eat the steak. Draco bent his head down and nipped the edge of the steak between his front teeth, he tried not to let even a grain of the powder touch his lips. Then with a slightly annoyed squawk from Steve whipped the steak away from the mat and took it inside out of Steve’s sight.
“You little bastard!” Steve said in a hoarse whisper, now he would have to hope that Draco ate the thing.
Since Draco had taken up a regular place with Joe he’d been made comfortable and welcome. He spent his time mostly as a cat or now as a dog and being a dragon he’d found an affinity to being near the fire. Joe had therefore bought a very large dog basket with blankets and comfortable cushions. Draco smiled slyly and resumed his place in front of the fire, having carefully concealed the drugged steak under his blankets. Although he had to admit the smell was tempting, he had eaten well already so had no real interest in the beef steak…plus beef well it just wasn’t his first choice of meat anyway. Draco waited patiently for ten minutes then gently laid his head down on the cushion and feigned going to sleep. No sooner had he shut his gold green eyes than he heard a slight cracking sound. The sound continued for about a minute, with a few well chosen curses from the man outside before Draco felt a chill breath of evening air and realised the door was being forced open. The figure of a large man entered the room silently, bent over in a semi crouch like stance.
If Steve had known anything about the nature of dragons he would have known that with the lights out and the place in complete darkness it made no difference. Draco could still see, just as well as if the room was fully illuminated. Draco possessed natural infra vision, he could see into the infrared part of the spectrum, he also possessed ultra vision that meant he could see into the ultraviolet spectrum too. In short the only thing that could prevent Draco seeing perfectly normally in any circumstance was a spell of utter darkness, and given his now ancient status it would need to be a very powerful version at that! So to Draco Steve coming into the room was as clear as if the lights had been on or Steve had been wearing an illuminated clown suit. Draco closed his eyes down to the merest of slits and pretended to be sound asleep, breathing steady even breaths. Steve approached him as silently as he could and ran his fingers through the golden strands of Draco’s coat, “Yeah you are the strangest damn dog I have ever seen. You have a good sleep boy after that nice steak. Now where would that little runt keep gold coins?” Steve pulled out a little penlight torch, it was only about two and a half inches in length and took a single AAA battery but its LED bulb illuminated things nicely. He scanned the room with the light looking behind framed pictures, careful not to disturb too much, just in case of some wall safe or alarm. He found nothing! He inspected all the cupboards and shelves with an equally keen interest…he found nothing! After ten minutes of fruitless effort he stood in the centre of the room with his hands on his hips.
“Well he’s probably not going to keep that sort of stuff in the front room anyway. So it’ll be somewhere in the rear of the house.”
Steve stepped carefully to the inner door and opened it, quietly, he believed Draco sound asleep but no sense taking risks. Stepping out onto the wooden floorboards of the landing, he tried to step as lightly as he could just in case a floorboard might creak. He looked around by the light of his penlight, he could see immediately five doors all shut! One to his immediate right, two either side of a terracotta tiled square downstairs, the stairs dropped straight down from where he stood, and two more at the other end of the landing. “OK not that many rooms to check, should be done in a short while.” Steve gripped the handle of the door to his right and opened it, he had opened the door onto Natalie’s area. “Sub divided, ah but it’s one of those temporary partitions. Good size room though. Maybe it will take a little longer after all. Still no problem.” He entered her room and started searching the bedroom part before moving to Natalie’s “living room” area. If Steve had been able to see properly he might have realised that the room’s length was in fact two and half times the depth of the stairs and so stretched beyond the outside wall of the house.
With Steve now in the rear of the house Draco roused himself, he was wide awake of course. He silently cast a spell of immateriality, this spell would mean that he would not only be invisible, but Steve, or anyone else for that matter, could walk straight through him until he was ready. Like golden smoke he faded to nothing, his body becoming insubstantial before vanishing completely. Then silent as a ghost he padded out onto the landing.
“House…” he said in a quiet whisper, “I believe you can hear me like you heard the magus. I think you should know there is an unknown man in here…an intruder. Can you keep him contained while I find out what he wants?” The landing lights flashed imperceptibly in response. Draco smiled to himself, this intruder was going to get a lesson in which houses he should never try to break into...a magical house owned by a wizard and protected by a dragon top of the list!
With Natalie’s area searched Steve stepped back out onto the landing, he passed right through Draco who merely sat watching him. Steve went to the other end of the landing, he opened the door at the end and was confronted by a bathroom.
“Doubt he’d put gold coins in there.” He opened the door beside it onto a small cupboard space, an airing cupboard, a quick perfunctory search revealed nothing. During his search of the cupboard the bathroom door swung quietly shut. Steve now felt the need to use the toilet, “Coffee and beer gets you every time!” he said, “don’t imagine the runt will mind me using his bog!” So he opened the door again, his eyes bulged, hadn’t this been a bathroom? He was now looking at a bedroom.
“What the fuck?” He said under his breath, “I’m sure that was a bathroom just now.” He went into the bedroom and searched it, again he found absolutely nothing. He stepped back out onto the landing and stopped, something was wrong here! He had entered that bedroom by the door at the far end of the landing, furthest from the stairs, yet now he was standing at the top of the stairs again, facing two doors. “Must have got turned around in the dark.” Steve shook his head, if that were true he had just searched Natalie’s room again, but he was certain that hadn’t been the bedroom he had searched initially. He strode deliberately up to the door that had been the airing cupboard, he opened it and balked, he looked in on a neat pristine kitchen. “Kitchen upstairs??? OK whatever!” He searched the kitchen cupboards top to bottom and found precisely nothing. Time was wasting and he was getting nowhere. He stepped back out of the door, what was it with these doors? Some trick hinges that made them close by themselves? He stopped again, when had he come downstairs? The stairs now ascended to his left and he was standing on the terracotta tiled square. He tried the door immediately in front of him and saw a bathroom. He had the curious feeling it was the same bathroom, but that had been upstairs. “Two identical bathrooms? One up, one down. OK this runt has some money but at least I found it so I’ll use the bog just quickly.” He moved inside and for a minute or more stood peeing into the toilet, he deliberately didn’t flush as a shaded insult to Joe, he even deliberately let his stream of piss wander onto the floor. Steve wiped his hands on the towel and stepped out of the door again, stopping dead in his tracks. Now he was upstairs on the landing again and had stepped out of the door that had been the airing cupboard come kitchen. “What the hell kind of fun house is this?” He looked to his right, the door at the end of the landing that had been the bathroom now showed a small keep fit room with weights and exercise equipment when he pushed the door open. Steve shook his head as if trying to clear it, something strange was going on here. More rooms than the house should have. He definitely wasn’t sure he liked this. “What is going on with these doors too? Every bloody time I open one I find it closed again. Do they all close themselves?” He re-opened the door behind him to the bathroom only to see Natalie’s room again. But hadn’t that room been at the top of the stairs? He didn’t go in but in two strides he was at that door again and opened it. With a loud squawk of terror he almost fell through the doorway, if it hadn’t been for his keeping hold on the door handle he would have as well. His eyes bulged out of his head, what he saw was space, vast empty space. Not a room, because that would have had a floor, walls and a ceiling, this was just nothing, it was as if the door had opened on an outside wall in a pitch black night. The biggest thing to Steve though was the location, this door was floating easily six hundred feet up, he could see the tops of roofs! How could a single storey house be six hundred feet tall suddenly? Steve tried desperately not to look down, as he clung to the handle with a vice like grip. A quick glance told him the door was in mid air, there was nothing beneath it, no wall joining it to the ground. Steve finally managed to haul himself back through the door and shut it quickly with a bang, the one thing that he was genuinely terrified by was heights, ever since he’d been a boy. He breathed in short gasps and felt his heart pounding in his chest, beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he stared around himself in a rising sense of panic. He moved down the stairs to the last step before the tiled square, afraid to step onto the square. He opened the door on his left, he faced the airing cupboard again. He howled frustrated as he shut the door with a bang that shook the wall and opened the one on his right…bathroom now with an intense odour and familiar looking stain on the floor, but that had been upstairs not down! He closed the door and drew in a deep shuddering breath.
“Get a grip Steve! This is a bad dream that’s all, you’re not really here…It’s just a fucking house!” Steve stretched across the square and gripped the handle of the door in front of him, from the glass panel in it he could see a shadowy room beyond. “Conservatory probably...” He pulled it open crying in frustration, the bathroom…again! He turned and ran up the stairs. Suddenly he felt he wanted out, nothing was worth all this, nothing! Steve felt lost, turned around until he wasn’t sure which way was up. He no longer was sure which door was which so with a shaking hand he opened the door on his left, afraid he would see the nothing room again...cold terror gripped him! He clung to the door frame as he peeked around it like a small boy. The empty space was gone! He breathed a sigh. The nothing room had been replaced by an old stone clad room, totally bare and empty. Steve stepped inside mouth open just staring! It was crazy because his senses were telling him he was now deep underground…but he’d run UP the stairs to get here. He turned almost feverish to the door behind him to find it had shut silently again. He gripped the handle and with a heartfelt yell of frustration tore it open, he was prepared to rip it from its hinges if he had to. A cold blank wall made from the same type of grey stone blocks unevenly cut and cemented together barred his path. His panic now mounted, he’d somehow become sealed in! Steve wasn’t one for claustrophobia, hell he’d been in poky police cells but being sealed into a stone room with no exit pushed all his buttons at once! He wheeled around desperately and screamed. The room was silent and cold, his little penlight only illuminated the wall in a bright circle of light. Prison hadn’t scared Steve, he could cope with that any day, but this place? He wanted out and right now! The beam of his penlight flew across the walls, first one way then the other. Frantically he scanned the walls for another door, a window, anything that would let him leave. Nothing just more cold grey, blank stone.
“Arrrrghh!” He screamed, “let me out of this place! I swear I won’t ever come back.”
He flashed his penlight around the room again, A door outline appeared at the far end of the room illuminated dimly in his torchlight, he was sure that door hadn’t been there moments before. Steve ran to it at a dead sprint terrified it would vanish and tore it open with a triumphant cry. He then rapidly changed to a more anguished cry as he stepped out the doorway onto the terracotta tiled square, downstairs again! This house was just too weird, he looked at his watch in the fading light of his penlight, it must be wrong...no way had he spent two hours searching this place, yet his watch showed just over two hours had elapsed. Steve began shaking violently, he dropped his penlight and bending to recover it, he gripped it with a shaking hand, he was scared to death now, he wanted out!
“Have you had enough fun yet?” A deep bass voice rolled in the enclosed space of the square.
“Who said that?” Steve whirled in a circle, his eyes wide, nothing. The three doors at the foot of the stairs were all shut again.
“I said that.” Replied the voice, “I asked if you had had enough fun or would you perhaps like to spend longer here? I’m sure it could be arranged.”
“L-L-Longer???” Steve was very close to a screaming panic, he was a hard man, a criminal who could deal with anything, but this house was terrifying him and he frankly didn’t want to spend another second here, “what is it with this crazy house?”
“Well if you will break into the home of a wizard…do not be surprised if his house is magical too!”
“Magic?” Steve tried to get a grip on himself, his penlight shook and quivered, “Don’t talk bollocks there ain’t no such thing!”
“I can assure you there is…Take me for example” With that Draco partially released his immateriality spell, just as he had done with Joe he uncovered only his head. Steve’s eyes gaped wide and his mouth hung open limply. His penlight dropped from his hand onto the tiled floor. “I can also say that Beef is not my favourite meat, so I didn’t eat your steak after all! Uncle Steve.”
Steve nodded slowly his eyes were riveted to the floating head. It was reptilian, easily twice or was it three times the size of his own head, with golden scales and green gold eyes. It fixed him with a steady stare that left Steve suddenly feeling as if he wanted to be anywhere else.
“W-W-What?” He stuttered, his brain was refusing to work properly.
“I said I don’t much care for beef. What am I? Is it not obvious? I am a dragon and you are not supposed to be here. I would suggest you leave now before I consider adjusting my diet!”
“Dr-dr-dragon?” Steve felt his bladder release and a warm liquid sensation run down his legs. Fantasy and magic were all bullshit! But suddenly as if he’d crossed into the Twilight Zone he was face to face with it.
“That is what I said, I am in fact an ancient gold dragon and you are here to steal from this house. So I am here to prevent you. Stealing anything is not a very wise idea…here that would make me somewhat angry. Can you imagine an angry gold dragon?” Draco moved his head closer so Steve could see his reflection in Draco’s eye. Steve paled, he felt another warm flush of liquid run down his legs. “I can choose to let you leave of course…”
“Of-of course. Very good of you I’m sure...” Steve nodded, coherent thought was becoming a problem for him.
“But what will you do when you leave here I wonder?” Draco deliberately licked his lips with his reptile tongue.
“What-whatever you want mate…”
“Then I think you should leave now! Never, ever show your face around here again. Indeed go a long way away and don’t come back. I have a very long memory and an especially good one for faces…Uncle Steve!” Draco smiled as evilly as he could managed as his tongue licked across his lips again, “As you say magic is…what was your word for it?”
“Yes, well I’d think in that case you’d not want to go telling anyone about what you have seen here. Do you?”
“No, no I quite agree. Mum’s the word!”
“If that means you will be silent then I might be prepared to let you go…that is assuming the house doesn’t wish to have any more fun with you.”
Steve stared around himself, he thought his terror bad but being told the house might be doing this to him made him deeply terrified. He whisked his head turned it left and right staring wide eyed, “The house?” he said in a small voice, he could feel that warm liquid sensation on his legs again.
“Oh yes, of course. Why this house could make it that you’ll be moving from room to room…forever! Or just place you into a room, the door seals itself…as you have already seen. The difference being you would probably never leave again. Time is also funny here, no doubt you feel it? Minutes have elapsed yet your wristwatch says hours.” Draco smiled, Steve gave a scream and looked around like the walls were closing in on him. Small flames lit at Draco’s nostrils and he blew out two small steam jets, “You might never see the outside world again. Maybe that sounds like something you would enjoy?”
“No.” Steve squeaked. “Thank you no…I’ll go and never come back I swear.”
“Then I take it you have learned your lesson, that is good! Do not break into a wizard’s house, in fact I’d be wary of breaking into any house from now on, if I were you. You never know what you might find. And if you want to try and put a dragon like me to sleep in future, don’t use beef!”
“No, I mean yes, I’ll try to remember that. How?” Steve’s face was a terrible ashen white, he was bordering on a total mental collapse through fear, he was not a man who considered himself afraid of anything but this house in only the short time he’d been in it had terrified him beyond anything he had ever experienced. He wanted a way out, sod Paul and his banker he doubted there were any gold coins here and he suddenly felt that he didn’t want to be here when the runt got back, no sir!
“How do you leave?” Draco suggested with a can I help you? smile. “Up the stairs, the door immediately in front of you will lead you back to the front room. You could say it is the one fixed point in this house...so your only way out, as you have no doubt discovered. Once out I think you would like to be far away from here, very far away from here indeed.”
“Yes, yes of course.” Steve looked round he wondered if the house was going to contrive some way to keep him here.
“And I’d think you would want to be there as soon as possible don’t you?”
“Yes, I’ll go, you won’t see me again I swear.”
Draco lifted his head out of Steve’s path and with a scream that sounded suspiciously like a woman’s Steve bolted up the stairs at a dead run. In his panic he almost crashed through the door to the front room. He raced across the front room and crashed out through the front door, running as if the hounds of hell were on his heels! He kept looking back expecting Draco to be there immediately behind him…a disembodied head following him ready to eat him!
Draco simply stood at the front door, whispered some quiet words of magic and smiled. As he said the spell the battered front door corrected the distortions caused by Steve’s forcing of the lock…as if by magic it completely repaired itself.
That night when Joe and Natalie returned, they were laughing and cuddling having had the most wonderfully romantic meal together. Draco greeted Joe and explained about then described the unexpected visitor.
“And you let him in?” Joe said with an open mouthed sense of amazement, “what kind of a watchdog are you?”
“I am a dragon magus, not a dog.”
“Alright what kind of a watch dragon are you? You were supposed to keep the creeps out!”
“He wrenched the lock on the door with some tool magus, I was supposed to be drugged. Besides I didn’t know what he was intending to do once in, I thought it might be wiser to observe him before confronting him.”
“Don’t be too hard on him Joe.” Natalie stepped toward Draco tickling him under the chin, “I suspect that he got more than he bargained for…right Draco?”
“Indeed he did, I think between the house and myself we convinced him never to return here. He left in such a panic he almost ran into the front door without opening it. By the way he forgot his little torch and his steak too!”
“What do you suppose he was after?” Natalie looked at Joe searchingly.
“He mentioned gold coins.” Draco volunteered, “he assumed I was unconscious so never thought I could hear him, or for that matter understand anything he said.”
“Joe’s coins oh…so who might have put the idea in his head that there were any here?”
Joe stood thoughtful for a moment, he was trying to remember who he had told about the coins, “Well there’s only a few people who know about them. I didn’t go shouting about them, that’s why I’m only selling them singly when I need to.”
“Well remember you told me Joe, and showed me the coin at the bank.”
“Yes, I know that Nat!” Joe smiled at her and hugged her closer, “but I’d sort of discounted you as a possibility sweetheart. Unless you are only into me for the money...you little gold digger!” Natalie smiled wryly before she kissed his cheek whispering thank you...but I don’t want your money.
Joe scratched his head thoughtfully, “Who else was there? Well I told Lin, obviously I sold it to him. It’s possible he sent this guy to get more, he did sound sort of dangerous and fixated, swore to do me harm if the coin wasn’t with him in three days…But he got his coin while we have been friends a long time, but there was a lot of money riding on it. No, no I don’t think Lin would do that. Then I told the bank, old Jolly the bank manager.” Joe’s eyes widened, “yeah I told him to explain the sudden cash in my account.”
“You don’t think old Jolly would hire someone to steal them from you surely? Why for heaven’s sake?”
“He’s a banker Nat, it’s money, something of value, if he didn’t think he could get it any other way maybe he thought theft was his only option. Besides he’s been at home a lot recently, I’m wondering if the bank may have fired him.”
“Well that is possible I suppose but I still can’t see Jolly mixing with the sort of person Draco described. You know Joe, if I’m honest, Draco’s description sounded familiar, like that guy that stuck a gun in my face during the robbery. The one that told you he never forgot a face.”
“Him? Why would he be breaking in? Surely if he wanted to get to me he’d do it while I was here? Anyway he never knew anything about the coins.”
“Well it’s a puzzle…I wonder what the answer is.” Natalie turned back to Draco, “Was there much damage done Draco?”
“Only the front door, he searched the rooms most carefully, I believe he was trying to conceal the fact that he had disturbed anything. I repaired the front door myself magus. The house allowed him into…your room first Miss Natalie, only because it was there already. But other than that an airing cupboard, bathroom, your keep fit room magus, any other room was empty. He did use the bathroom rather obnoxiously. He tried one door and found just a door floating in the air, he looked ashen when he closed it again.”
“Floating in mid air?”
“It was a curious nothing room, no walls, no floor, no ceiling, as if the door opened onto the outside…but in this case I’d say it was six hundred feet above the ground.”
“Why would the house show him a room like that?”
“I don’t know, he almost fell through when he opened the door, but from the look on his face he definitely didn’t enjoy the view.”
“Well I’d better go check my things Joe, if he’s been through my stuff…eww just the thought of it gives me the creeps! Joe you call the police…”
“Nat I don’t think that’s wise. OK, the creep broke in, but he didn’t take anything and he’s almost certain not to come back. If we call the police...that’s going to mean letting them in…” Natalie for a moment looked puzzled, why would Joe not want the police? “Into the back of the house.”
As he mentioned letting the police look around it dawned on her. “Ah you maybe right Joe if nothing was taken and no harm done, maybe we should just let sleeping dogs lie…no pun intended Draco.”