THE DRAGON SELLER
by Federico Ferrario
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
RAINER MARIA RILKE
The Dragon Seller
I SAW MY FIRST DRAGON when I was ten, and I met Raleigh Thompson at thirty. Somebody, in the past, would have said it’s easier to find your soulmate than meet a legendary creature like a dragon, but believe me: true love is rare, dragons are not.
The first GeNext specimens were only eleven inches long and had small, shiny scales. Even though in recent times larger species have appeared on the market, and their size has nearly doubled on average, dragons are still defined as “pets” in manuals and dictionaries.
Well, that’s not what I tell my clients. When someone wants one of my dragons, I warn them that they aren’t buying just any animal, but a semi-intelligent monster.
Because dragons are monsters, people often forget this.
Ever since they appeared on the market, collectors and criminals from around the world have searched for ways to make them bigger and even more monstrous, but to no avail.
Before LeBon had called me and offered me the job in Omaha, I had no idea that somebody had actually succeeded. And how could I? After all, I was just a simple breeder from Boise, Idaho.
I had twenty dragons in my Flight Garden. Two docile jade green Ming Tangs, seven Australian Outbacks with red scales and ten terrible American Mustangs with blue scales. Deirdre, my oldest dragon, was their matriarch and a pureblood. Then, of course, there was Sheela. Of all the dragons that I hatched or I dealt with during these years, she’s the only one I never wanted to sell, even though somebody had offered me ten thousand dollars.
At that time the Drought of the Century had brought the southern states to the edge of revolt, and scientists all over the world were working non-stop to find a solution. I was also trying to find a solution, but for my life: Dafne, my fiancée, had canceled our wedding and left me. On top of that, I was low on money. It was then that my friend LeBon called me and proposed the deal. Here’s what the agreement was with that damned French man:
“Go to Denver, take the Amtrak for Omaha,” he told me. “On the train you’ll meet mister Liu Dao. Cabin 203F. Give him the money, take my package. End of story.”
“End of story, huh? And why on a train?”
Between colleagues we would exchange favors like that once in a while. Buying from private owners was allowed only in a few states, and dragon eggs are delicate. The best thing is for an expert breeder to take care of transportation. It was the first time, however, that I had to get on a train.
“One of his fixations,” LeBon answered, “you know how my clients are, Jeq. This guy is obsessed with security. But you’ll be fine, don’t worry”.
Given our previous affairs, I had already suspected that Jean LeBon was a reckless idiot, but being an idiot myself, I listened to him. After all, Jean always paid in advance, I needed the money, and I owed him a favor. The fact that Liu Dao took so many precautions for some simple merchandise, instead, didn’t make me suspicious at all. But as I’ve already mentioned, I’m an idiot.
“Ok”, I answered after thinking about it for a few seconds, “Those three grand can come in handy. And then I only have to work as a courier. What could ever go wrong?”
“Fantastique!” exclaimed Jean all happy. “Thanks Jeq, I’ll send you the money and the info right away”.
Ladies and gentlemen, if it ever happens to you, in your life, to start any journey, endeavor, adventure or deal with the sentence “What could ever go wrong?”, you must know that when you least expect it… everything will go go wrong.
My case is no exception. At that time I just wanted to do the job for LeBon, go back home and try to rebuild my life, after my engagement had failed.
Instead, I got on that train and found myself neck-deep in trouble. Mustang type trouble.
I HAD TO LEAVE DENVER at eleven p.m., and meet mister Dao in his private cabin at exactly half past midnight. The trip to Omaha lasted eight hours, so I booked a bed in a bunk, one of the few that were still available. Once the deal was done, I would sleep for a few hours and the following morning I would go back home with a US Airways flight.
From Omaha to my house in Boise there’s about a thousand miles, and in that whole day I would be traveling at least twice that. It was a hard job, but who would say no to three thousand dollars for one day of work?
Right on time, at half past midnight I presented myself in front of cabin 203F and knocked.
A giant in a dark suit, about six feet tall, cracked the door open and scrutinized me from top to bottom. LeBon wasn’t joking about mister Dao’s obsessions. He really cared about security.
“What do you want?”
“I’m the French courier”, I said telling him the security word LeBon had given me.
The bodyguard stepped out into the hallway and after frisking me from head to toe with a portable scanner he let me in.
“Mister Dao, your guest has arrived”, he announced.
Dao’s cabin was as big as a hotel room, with a king size bed, a closet next to the bathroom door and a small kitchen. The carpet smelled clean.
Now this is a room, I thought.
Nothing like my single bunk, which was basically a horizontal piece of wood with a sheet on it.
Liu Dao, LeBon’s contact, was sitting on an armchair next the the big window in the middle of the room, and was observing Nebraska’s prairies, surrounded by darkness, slide by at 185 miles an hour.
In his hands he had a large rectangular metal case. As soon as he saw me, he stood up and walked over to shake my hand. He was dressed in an elegant dark suit, was around sixty years old, with a small body and short black hair. An ex-military man, I thought, judging by his stiff posture.
“You must be Jack Ports. Welcome”.
“Mister Dao”, I answered shaking his hand, “mister LeBon sends his greetings”.
“Ah, LeBon. Where is our friend now?”
“He should be in Paris, if I’m not mistaken. He’s anxious to close the deal”.
“And I’m anxious to get rid of his terrible accent”, answered Dao with a smile. “Please, have a seat”.
Who knows why, I started to like Liu Dao a lot. He pointed to the armchair in front of his and we sat down.
“Would you like anything? Feel free, mister Ports. You’re my guest”.
“No, I’m fine, thanks”.
Dao turned to his bodyguard.
“Herbert, bring me a cup of tea please”.
The bodyguard left the room and went into the small kitchen, as Dao set the case on the ground, next to his legs. Then he looked at me.
“So, you and mister LeBon are colleagues?”
“More or less”, I answered. “We have the same job, but we work in different circles, so to speak”.
Mister Dao put his hands in his lap and looked at me with curiosity.
“And what does this…diversity consist in, if I’m not indiscreet?”
“You’re not, no worries. You see, I’m a small breeder from Idaho. I raise my dragons by myself, and I sell them in my store. LeBon, on the other hand, works for a specialized company in New York. His clients can afford expensive eggs”.
“It must be gratifying”, commented Dao. “Making a lot of money? I guess so”.
“No, I mean raising your own dragons. See them come out of their egg, give them their imprinting…”
“Oh, that”. I made a vague gesture. “If you can stand the acid poop, the fire breath and their innate tendency to hang from anything with their tail…well then I would say so”.
Dao shook his head.
“You’re not giving me the real story, mister Ports. I’m convinced that you love your dragons more than you show”.
I smiled out of pure courtesy, but I didn’t comment.
The truth is I didn’t want anymore dragons, at that time. In fact, I was about to leave the business once and for all. Don’t get me wrong, I love dragons. They were my specialty in college. But they were also the reason my engagement had failed.
Raising animals is hard work, whoever has this job can confirm it. When they’re sick, you have to take care of them whether it’s day or night, winter or summer. If they get things dirty or make a mess, it’s you that will have to pull up your sleeves, because nobody else is going to do it for you. It’s like an awful marriage, except that once in a while you’re lucky enough to sell your partner to someone else. And even when this happens, you always feel a little bad, because along with them you say goodbye to a piece of yourself.
With dragons it’s the same: it’s a great and at the same time terrible job. A guy from the XXI century can’t do it without suffering any repercussions on his social life. Dragons need constant care and attention. I couldn’t simply punch my card at six p.m. and go back to the store the next day. I had to be there all day, at any hour. And I wasn’t lying to mister Dao when I was talking about the smell. Working with dragons leaves a clear smell of bitter almonds on your skin, an aroma that can’t be washed away easily. And the smell of their feces, sorry to let you know, is even worse.
It’s not easy winning over a girl if you smell like a closet of chemical products, and it’s even harder to keep her. When I was with Dafne, there were almost sixty dragons in my store, I worked fourteen hours a day, with no breaks, and that’s why she left me.
“Did mister LeBon tell you…what I have in my…”
Mister Dao didn’t finish the sentence and with his head he indicated the case on the floor, next to a gift wrapped box.
“No”, I answered.
Not that you had to be a genius to know what was in it: a dragon egg. Maybe more than one. High class stuff, considering how much LeBon was paying me.
“I figured as much”, said Dao. “And that’s best, I assure you. For no reason, I repeat, for no reason must you try to open it. Promise me”.
“Listen, you don’t need to tell me. I’m the courier, remember? LeBon knows I don’t open his packages”.
Dao’s look left no room for doubts: he really wanted me to promise. I sighed as I held my hand up like a witness in a courtroom.
“Ok. I promise: I won’t open it”.
The situation had all of a sudden become awkward and I didn’t know why.
What the hell could be so important in that case?
I was about to ask my host for an explanation when Herbert, the bodyguard, came out of the room’s kitchenette with a cup of tea.
“Thank you Herbert”, said Dao taking the steamy cup of tea.
The giant nodded and left. Dao took a sip of tea and motioned outside the window.
“Oh, here we go”, he said. “That’s Swanson lake”.
The train passed by the banks of a small lake, shining light on the water’s surface with its piercing brilliance.
The moment had come. I nodded and turned on the laptop. Even Dao took his case out.
“Now we can talk about business, mister Ports”.
There are things you can’t do in Colorado but that you can in Nebraska, one of these is selling or buying dragon eggs. That’s why we had waited until the train passed the border. After that, my role became marginal. LeBon’s skinny and mustached face appeared in a video call from Paris, where he was at that moment. Him and Dao said hi to each other like old friends, then the negotiation started.
In the past, LeBon had used me to “buy” a dozen dragon eggs around the States. Usually the prices were around ten thousand dollars. Nothing that exceptional, if you consider that LeBon’s company resold the eggs for prices ten times that. Famous actors, sport stars, rappers with obsessions of grandeur, eccentric millionaires, all of them paid a fortune to follow the new trend.
One time Jean had sent me to get a French Pink all the way in New Orleans, and then he had sold the egg to the King of England’s grandchildren. Or was it the Queen of Sweden’s children? Anyway, you get the point. If you think I was jealous that LeBon dealt with the most beautiful eggs while I was only a modest breeder, well, you’re on the wrong track. For me all dragons are wonderful, it doesn’t matter how many horns they have on their head or if they have golden scales or ones as black as coal. But I admit I was terribly curious to know what type of dragon was in the case.
While LeBon and Dao discussed the price, I started fantasizing. Since the dragon trend had started, the Chinese had thrown themselves body and soul onto the Ming Tangs, creating thin and lively dragons, with delicate hues of jade on their scales.
Maybe Dao was selling him a new type of Tang, I thought.
The word on the street was that a laboratory in Hong Kong had created a Tang with ruby red scales, in honor of the Party, but nobody believed it.
Distracted by my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed that the room had fallen into silence. I snapped out of it only when Dao said something in Mandarin, raising his voice. From the laptop on my knees, LeBon’s voice was tired and exasperated.
“Tiens, old Chinese bastard”, he said. “One million, but not a dollar more. Give me the coordinates”.
Upon hearing that number my blood froze. Nobody had ever paid such a price for an egg, if not for a Fabergé. The image of a dragon with a body adorned with precious stones made me shake my head.
One million dollars? LeBon must have gone crazy!
Mister Dao gave LeBon a sequence of numbers and after a few seconds Herbert came over to us.
“Sir, the bank has confirmed the payment”, he referred.
“Very good, great”, said Liu Dao. “It’s always a pleasure doing business with you, monsieur LeBon”.
“Yes, yes, sure it is. Give mister Ports the merchandise please”.
That’s when something strange happened. The price of the egg had already surprised me, but I was even more amazed by the fact that Dao didn’t open the case to show it to us. This, more than anything else, should have made me suspicious, but as you already know, I’m an idiot. Instead Dao took the gift package next to the case and unwrapped it, revealing a rectangular dark oak box, with the words “Ardbeg – Airigh Nam Beist” inscribed in gold letters.
“Take it, Jeq”, LeBon told me.
I took the container Dao was holding out to me and asked: “What is it?”
“This is whiskey”. Dao bowed his head with a nod.
“Whiskey?” I looked at the wood of the box without understanding. “Yes, it’s my present”, said LeBon from the laptop. “Please don’t open it, Jeq”.
Damn it, who did these two take me for? I thought. First the case, now the whiskey.
“Sorry Jean, I thought I might have a sip on my way home”, I said to make him mad.
“Don’t you dare!” LeBon threatened me.
Then Dao took the metal case and gave it to me.
“Good. Mister LeBon, mister Ports, our deal is closed”.
LeBon said goodbye to Dao but before interrupting the video call, Jean and I made arrangements to meet up, two days from then, in my store in Boise. When we were to meet I would give him the case and the present. He told me not to open his present again and to bring the case and whiskey intact. When I shut the laptop, Herbert was helping mister Dao put his coat on.
“You’re leaving the room?” I asked getting up myself.
“Oh, mister Ports”, said Dao, “I’m sorry I can’t keep you company any longer. I have another engagement elsewhere. When we get to the station in McCook, Herbert and I will get off the train”.
“Don’t worry, I had no intention of arriving in Omaha. Herbert has already arranged for the room to stay booked for the rest of the trip. Enjoy the suite, my treat”.
“Really? Well, thank you then”, I said.
The bed in my bunk, if we really want to call it a bed, was small and the mattress was as hard as stone. But the king size bed in Dao’s room had all the looks of being soft and comfortable. The deal had gone well, I couldn’t be more satisfied, and all that luxury at my disposal was the cherry on top.
We shook hands, then mister Dao and Herbert left the cabin and went toward one of the train’s exits. I threw myself on the bed, discovering that it was perfect, just as I had hoped. But I wasn’t sleepy yet. I looked at the time: it was almost 1 a.m. central time, while at my home in Idaho it wasn’t even midnight yet.
I took the laptop, sat down next to the big window and started up the store’s video surveillance program. I had six cameras; four inside the Flight Garden, one in the brooding room and one in the infirmary.
At that moment I didn’t have any eggs and all my dragons were fine, so I concentrated on the Garden. I chose the camera in the north-west corner, close to the Outbacks’ big orange tree.
I sat there watching the night scope images, while the train slowed down little by little as it got closer to the McCook station. One of the Australian Outbacks flew in front of the camera and grasped one of the orange tree’s branches. Moving his head around he showed his three tiny horns on the top, then he stared into the lens for a moment. His eyes reflected the light like two fluorescent headlights.
“Hello, Longstaff”, I mumbled to the screen.
The dragon moved toward the bark making the branch shake and disappeared from view. For a while I didn’t see anything else. Everything seemed calm.
I’ll be home soon, guys, I thought resting on the chair.
My eye fell on the metal case, which was still on the table where Dao had left it.
One million! Incredible.
I felt a shiver. LeBon really was reckless. I mean, how could he rely on me for such an exchange? It wasn’t surprising that Dao went around with a bodyguard. I would too, damn it. I didn’t have the courage to touch it, I could hardly even look at it. What type of dragon could there be, safeguarded in there? And if the egg was fragile? The idea of presenting myself in front of LeBon and, once the case was opened, find a one million dollar omelette wasn’t good at all.
Crazy French man! I thought, and not for the first time.
Meanwhile, the train had arrived in McCook and had stopped at the station. From the window you could see the long platform, where there were about twenty passengers getting ready to board the train. Dao and Herbert were the first to get off. They walked around two girls of about twenty years old, two university students judging by the size of the suitcases, and went toward the parking lot.
That’s when I noticed the other man. He wore a dark suit and was as tall as Dao, with large shoulders and a shaved head. He walked straight toward them, elbowing one of the girls and knocking over her suitcase. I saw Herbert turn around and put a hand under his jacket but the man stopped him, pointing something against his chest.
I got up and almost smashed my nose against the glass. I had a bad feeling. Dao raised his hand all of a sudden, as if he wanted to shoo him, and said something to the man. As an answer, the guy showed him what was in his hand: it was a gun.
Meanwhile, on the platform the passengers had stopped getting off the train and most of the new travelers were getting on through the doors, dragging their luggage up the steps or helping others do so. There were a couple of families left that were waiting to say goodbye to their loved ones. Nobody paid attention to what was going on behind them, just a few feet away.
I started banging on the glass, to attract their attention, but instead of turning around those morons started waving to me.
“No, idiots! Behind you!” I yelled.
The man was forcing Dao and Herbert to move toward the parking lot, out of my view. I went to the right corner of the big window and pressed my cheek against the glass. The three of them were walking in the shadows, far from the light posts. Dao and his bodyguard were in front and the man with the gun behind them. It happened in a flash. Dao pushed the man away and Herbert tried to shoot. The hit man, however, was faster. Herbert fell to the ground with a dark stain on his white shirt, where his heart was.
I started banging on the glass even harder, and one of the fathers on the platform must have realized something was wrong. But it was already too late. The hit man pointed the gun at Dao, who had reached one of the parked cars, and fired. LeBon’s old friend fell forward onto the asphalt.
“Damn it!” I yelled stepping away from the glass. “What the hell is going on?”
I went back to the window shaking, with my hands on my head, just in time to see the hit man run toward the train. The doors had just closed, but the relief I felt seeing him stuck off the train vanished almost immediately. When the train started moving again, the man spoke with someone on board and made some gestures with his hand indicating the carriages. There must have been another hit man on the train, and he was looking for me.
I was trapped.
As the Drought of the Century hits the United States, legendary creatures appear on Earth: Dragons.
Like one of the famous commercials says: “Thanks to advancements in genetic engineering, Dragons are finally out of myth, and in your local pet stores!”
From playful Outbacks to unpredictable jade Tangs, these little dragons usually don’t burn much, they love fruit and don’t molest young virgins.
But they are still monsters, and Jack Ports knows this very well.
He sells all kinds of varieties in his Flight Garden, including the most dangerous of all: the American Mustang, a species of battle dragon created by a failed experiment of the U.S. Navy.
Dumped by his fiancee before the wedding and short on cash, Jack just wants to put his life back together, but after a colleague mysteriously disappears, he finds himself with a dragon egg of unknown origins.
Set on raising it, Jack discovers that the egg contains a primus, the first dragon of a new species, whose genes hide a secret that many men are looking for.
And some are willing to kill to have it.
“You’ll love it too. It’s a wonderful mix of excellent science fiction, fantasy, and real life love for animals. Excellently written, outstanding characters, delightful and moving moments, humour, and serious action scenes. You have everything. And of course, dragons. Lovely, dangerous dragons. And urban setting, comments on our misuse of natural resources,…. what else? The writing goes from natural first person to scientific third person when necessary. A dose of mystery: where do dragons come from? And what about the Night Flier? Well, if you’re not hooked by now… Go ahead, buy this book. You’ll not regret it!!!!”
“Very cool premise, suspense, mystery, and pet dragons combined with an interesting writing style make a great read.”
“Enjoyed this immensely. It was fun learning about different types of Dragon. I am looking forward to more adventures from this author.”
Meet the Author: Federico Ferrario.
I am sci fi and fantasy writer, on my debut novel with “The Dragon Sellers”.
I currently live in Milan, Italy, where I wrote three more novels and a book of poems, which still have to be translated into English.
I keep poetry in my heart and philosophy on my tongue (unfortunately, the brain is empty).
I love Jack Vance, Česlav Milosz, and i hate broccoli (so glad that i don’t like them, coz broccoli really sucks).
I am a star lover and a cosmist philosopher, the last of my kind.
Connect with Federico Ferrario:
If you want to learn more about my work, you’re welcome to visit my website fedegferrario.com