WE TORE ahead of the mob to begin with - humans can't match vampires or Little People for speed - but then Mr Crepsley's right ankle swelled up and his pace dropped steadily.
"No - good," he gasped, as we stopped at a corner and rested. "Cannot - continue. You must go - on without me."
"No," I said instantly. "We're taking you with us."
"I cannot - keep up," he snarled, teeth gritted against the pain.
"Then we'll stand and fight," I told him. "But we stick together. That's an order."
The vampire forced a weak smile. "Careful, Darren," he said. "You might be a Prince, but you are still my assistant. I can slap sense into you if I have to."
"That's why I have to keep you with me," I grinned.
"You stop me from getting a big head."
Mr Crepsley sighed and bent to rub the purple flesh around his ankle.
"Here!" Harkat said, and we looked up. The Little Person had pulled down the ladder of an overhead fire escape. "They'll find it hard to follow if - we take to the roofs. We must go up."
Mr Crepsley nodded. "Harkat is correct."
"Will the lotion protect you from the sun?" I asked.
"From the worst of it," he said. "I will be red by sunset, but it should prevent severe burning."
"Then let's go!"
I was first up the ladder, Mr Crepsley next, Harkat last. The mob poured into the alley as Harkat was drawing his legs up, and those to the fore almost grabbed him. He had to kick hard at their hands to break free, then hurried up after us.
"Let me shoot!" the little old man with the rifle was shouting. "Out of my way! I can take them!" But there were too many people in the alley. It was packed tight and he couldn't raise his rifle to aim.
While the humans squabbled over who would get the ladder, we scrambled up the stairs. Mr Crepsley moved faster now that he had a railing to lean on for support. He winced as we moved out of the shadows and into direct sunlight, but didn't slow down.
I paused at the top of the fire escape and waited for Mr Crepsley. As I stood there, feeling more confident than I had a couple of minutes earlier, a helicopter dropped from the sky and someone yelled at me through a megaphone, "Stop where you are or we'll shoot!"
Cursing, I called down to Mr Crepsley, "Quick! We have to go now or?"
I got no further. Above, a marksman opened fire. The air around me whizzed with bullets, which zinged piercingly off the bars of the fire escape. Screaming wildly, I threw myself down the stairs and collided with Mr Crepsley and Harkat. If Mr Crepsley hadn't been holding on so tightly to the rail to ease the pressure on his injured ankle, we might all have gone over the side!
We hurried down a couple of flights, where the marksman couldn't see us, then huddled on a landing, frightened - miserable ?trapped .
"They might have to leave - to refuel," Harkat said hopefully.
"Sure," I snorted, "in an hour or two!"
"How are the humans below faring?" Mr Crepsley asked.
I stuck my head over the side and looked down. "The first few have made it to the top of the ladder. They'll be on us in a minute or less."
"We are in a good position to defend ourselves here," the vampire mused. "They will have to attack in small groups. We should be able to push them back."
"Sure," I snorted again, "but what good will that do? A few more minutes and the police and soldiers will arrive. It won't take them long to climb the building opposite and pick us off with their rifles."
"Damned above and damned below," Harkat said, wiping a few beads of green sweat from his round, bald head. "That leaves ?" He pointed to the window behind us, leading into the building.
"Another trap," I complained. "All the police have to do is surround the building, enter in armed teams, flush us out - and we're finished."
"True," Mr Crepsley agreed thoughtfully, "but what if they have to fight to get in? And what if we are not there when they arrive?"
We stared at Mr Crepsley questioningly. "Follow me," he said, sliding the window open and crawling inside. "I have a plan!"
Turning our backs on the advancing humans beneath and the hovering helicopter above, Harkat and I dived through the window and into the hall, where Mr Crepsley was on his feet and calmly brushing flecks of dirt from his shirt, as though waiting for a bus on a slow Sunday morning.
"Ready?" he asked when we were standing beside him.
"Ready forwhat ?" I replied, exasperated.
"Ready to set the cat among the pigeons," he laughed. Striding to the nearest door, he paused a moment, then slammed on it with the flat of his palm. "Vampires!" he bellowed. "Vampires in the building! Everybody out!"
He stepped away, faced us, and started counting. "One. Two. Three. Fo?"
The door burst open and a woman wearing a skimpy nightdress and no shoes raced out into the hallway, screeching and waving her hands above her head.
"Quick!" Mr Crepsley shouted, taking her arm and pointing her towards the stairs. "Head for the ground floor! We have to get out! We will die if we stay! The vampires are here!"
"Aiiieeee!" she screamed, then ran with astonishing speed for the stairs.
"See?" Mr Crepsley beamed.
"I see," I smirked.
"Me too," Harkat said.
"Then get busy," Mr Crepsley said, hopping to the next door, pounding upon it, roaring, "Vampires! Vampires! Beware the living dead!"
Harkat and I ran ahead of him, mimicking his knocks and cries, and within seconds the hallway was jammed with terrified humans, running about directionlessly, knocking one another over, almost flying down the stairs to safety.
As we reached the end of the corridor, I glanced over the railing of the stairway and saw those rushing down the stairs colliding with members of the mob, who'd stormed the building in an attempt to track us through it. Those fleeing couldn't get out, and those chasing us couldn't get in.
"Hurry," Harkat said, slapping my back. "They're coming in by the - fire escape."
Looking back, I saw the first of our pursuers poking his head through the window. I turned left and raced up the next corridor with Harkat and Mr Crepsley, raising a false alarm, emptying the apartments of their human inhabitants, clogging the hallway behind us.
While the mob vanguard clashed with the panicked residents, we turned down another corridor, fled to a fire escape on the opposite side of the building, crawled out, and leapt across to the neighbouring block of apartments. We darted through this one, spreading the same warning message, banging on doors, yelling about vampires, causing havoc.
Making our way to the rear of the building, we jumped across to a third apartment block, and again set the humans running in fear for their lives. But when we got to the end of this one, we paused and gazed on the alley below and the sky overhead. There was no sign of the mob, and the helicopter was hovering over the two buildings behind us. We could hear police sirens closing in.
"Now is the time to lose ourselves," Mr Crepsley said. "The chaos behind us will last a handful of minutes at most. We must make good use of that time."
"Which way do we go?" I asked, scanning the surrounding buildings.
Mr Crepsley's eyes darted from one building to another, settling on a low-built structure to our right. "There," he pointed. "That looks deserted. We will try it and pray that the luck of the vampires is with us."
There was no fire escape where we were, so we hurried down the stairs at the back of the budding and out into the alley. Sticking close to the walls, we crept to the building we'd set our sights on, broke a window to gain entry - no alarms sounded - and found ourselves in an old, abandoned factory.
We stumbled up a couple of floors, then ran as fast as we could to the back. There we discovered the shell of a decrepit apartment building due for demolition. Tearing through the lower floor, we emerged at the far side on to a maze of tight, dark, unpopulated alleys. We paused, ears open for sounds of pursuit. There weren't any.
We shared quick, shaky grins, then Harkat and I wrapped an arm around Mr Crepsley. He raised his painful right foot and we hobbled forward at a slower pace than before, enjoying our period of respite, but experienced enough to know that we weren't out of the frying pan yet. Not by a long shot.
Through the alleys we fled. We passed a few people, but none paid any attention to us - the afternoon was darkening with heavy clouds, casting the already gloomy alleys into pools of murky shadows. We could see clearly with our advanced eyesight, but to humans we appeared as nothing more than vaguely defined figures in the half-light. Neither the mob nor the police followed. We could still hear the ruckus they were creating, but it hadn't moved on from the three apartment blocks we'd terrorized. For the time being, we were in the clear.
We stopped outside the back of a supermarket to catch our breath. Mr Crepsley's right leg was purple up to his knee now and he must have been in immense pain. "We need ice for that," I said. "I could slip into the supermarket and?"
"No!" the vampire barked. "You have already inspired one mob with your shopping antics. We can do very nicely without inciting another."
"I was only trying to help," I grumbled.
"I know," he sighed, "but reckless risks only make matters worse. My injury is not as serious as it looks. A few hours' rest and I will be fine."
"How about these bins?" Harkat asked, tapping a couple of large, black rubbish bins. "We could crawl inside and wait - for night."
"No," I said. "People use bins like this all the time. We'd be discovered."
"Then where?" Harkat enquired.
"I don't know," I snapped. "Maybe we can find an empty apartment or an abandoned building. We could duck into Debbie's if we were close enough, but we're too far ?"
I stopped, eyes settling on a street sign across from the supermarket. "Baker's Lane," I muttered, rubbing the bridge of my nose. "I know this place. We've been here before, when we were searching for the vampaneze killers, before we knew about R.V. and Steve."
"We travelled almost everywhere in our search for the killers," Mr Crepsley commented.
"Yes, but I remember this place because - because ?"
I frowned, and then it came to me and I snapped my fingers. "Because Richard lives close by!"
"Richard?" Mr Crepsley frowned. "Your friend from school?"
"Yes," I said, excited. "His house is only three or four minutes away."
"You think he'd shelter us?" Harkat asked.
"Maybe, if I explain things to him." The others looked uncertain. "Have you any better ideas?" I challenged them. "Richard's a friend. I trust him. The worst he can do is turn us away."
Mr Crepsley thought about it a moment, then nodded. "Very well. We will ask him for help. As you say, we have nothing to lose."
Leaving the supermarket, we struck for Richard's house, and this time I walked with a bounce in my step. I was sure Richard would help. After all, hadn't I saved him on the stairs at Mahler's?
We made it to Richard's in just over four minutes. Wasting no time, we climbed on to the roof and hid in the shadows of a large chimney. I'd seen a light in Richard's room from the ground, so once I was sure that Harkat and Mr Crepsley were settled, I crept to the edge of the roof and lowered myself over it.
"Wait," Mr Crepsley whispered, sliding up beside me. "I will come with you."
"No," I whispered back. "The sight of you might scare him. Let me go alone."
"Very well," he said, "but I will wait outside the window, in case you run into trouble."
I didn't see what sort of trouble I could run into, but Mr Crepsley had a stubborn look in his eyes, so I simply nodded and swung out over the roof, got a toehold, drove my fingernails into the stone of the wall, then climbed down to Richard's room like a spider.
The curtains were drawn, but not all the way, and I was able to see directly into my friend's bedroom. Richard was lying on his bed, a packet of popcorn and a glass of orange juice propped on his chest, watching a rerun of theAddams Family on a portable TV set.
Richard was laughing at the antics of the TV freaks, and I had to smile at how oddly fitting it was that he should be watching this when three real freaks of the night had just turned up. Fate has a strange sense of humour.
I thought about knocking on the window, but that might startle him. I studied the simple latch inside the glass, then pointed it out to Mr Crepsley (who'd scaled down the wall beside me) and raised my eyebrows in a silent question: "Can you open it?"
The vampire rubbed the thumb, index and middle fingers of his right hand together very,very swiftly. When he'd produced a strong static charge, he lowered his hand, pointed his fingers at the latch, and made a gentle uplifting motion.
The vampire frowned, leant forward for a closer look, then snorted. "It is made of plastic!" I turned aside to hide a smile. "No matter," Mr Crepsley said, and cut a small hole in the glass with the nail of his right index finger. It made only a tiny squeaking noise, which Richard didn't hear over the sound of the TV. Mr Crepsley popped the glass inwards, crooked the latch up with his finger, then swung out of the way and motioned me forward.
Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I pushed the window open and stepped into the room as casually as possible. "Hi, Richard," I said.
Richard's head jerked around. When he realized who it was, his jaw dropped and he began to quiver.
"It's OK," I said, taking a step closer to the bed, raising my hands in a gesture of friendship. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm in trouble, Richard, and I need your help. I've a cheek to ask, but could you put me and a couple of my friends up for a few hours? We'll hide in the wardrobe or under the bed. We won't be any bother, honest."
"Vuh-vuh-vuh," Richard stuttered, eyes wide with terror.
"Richard?" I asked, concerned. "Are you OK?"
"Vuh-vuh-vampire!" he croaked, pointing a trembling finger at me.
"Oh," I said. "You've heard. Yes, I'm a half-vampire, but it's not what you think. I'm not evil or a killer. Let me call my friends, we'll get comfy, then I'll tell you all about?"
"Vampire!" Richard screamed, loudly this time, then turned to face the door of his room and bellowed at the top of his lungs: "Mum! Dad! Vampires! Vampires! Vampires! Vam?"
His cries were cut short by Mr Crepsley, who swung into the room, darted ahead of me, grabbed the boy by his throat, and breathed sharply over his face. Gas shot up Richard's nose and into his mouth. For a second he struggled, terrified. Then his features relaxed, his eyes closed, and he slumped back on the bed.
"Check the door!" Mr Crepsley hissed, rolling off the bed, crouching on the floor defensively.
I obeyed immediately, even though Richard's reaction had left me sick to my stomach. Opening the door a crack, I listened for sounds of Richard's family rushing to investigate his cry. They didn't come. The larger TV set in the living room was turned on and the noise must have masked Richard's shouts.
"It's OK," I said, closing the door. "We're safe."
"So much for friendship," Mr Crepsley snapped, brushing a few popcorn crumbs from his clothes.
"He was scared witless," I said miserably, staring down at Richard. "We were friends - he knew me - I saved his life - and for all that, he still thought I was here to kill him."
"He believes you are a blood-crazed monster," Mr Crepsley said. "Humans do not understand vampires. His reaction was predictable. We would have anticipated it and left him alone if we had been thinking clearly."
Mr Crepsley turned slowly and examined the room.
"This would be a good place to hide," he said. "The boy's family will probably not bother him when they see that he is sleeping. There is plenty of space in the wardrobe. I think all three of us could fit."
"No," I said firmly. "I won't take advantage of him. If he'd offered his help - great. But he didn't. He was afraid of me. It'd be wrong to stay."
Mr Crepsley's expression showed what he thought of that, but he respected my wishes and made for the window without any argument. I was heading after him when I saw that during the brief struggle the popcorn had spilled over the bedsheets, and the glass of orange juice had been knocked over. Stopping to shovel the popcorn back into its packet, I found a box of tissues, ripped several free and used them to mop up the worst of the orange juice. I made sure Richard was OK, set the TV to stand-by, bid my friend a silent goodbye, and left quietly, to run once again from the misguided humans who wished to kill me.