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Authors: Kate Thompson

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BOOK: Midnight's Choice
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Without a word, Martin and Tess linked arms with each other. From a distance they were like two young lovers strolling down the street, as innocent as spring.

CHAPTER TEN

T
HE CITY BELONGED TO
Tess and Martin. By night, there is nothing under the sky that vampires fear, for nothing can harm them. It is only by day, when they sleep away the hours of daylight, that fear impinges upon their dreams and makes their rest uneasy.

The two Switchers crossed the road and followed the route the gang of boys had taken, towards the centre of the city. At the next junction they veered to the left, heading for the docks and the darkness. They moved swiftly and silently, but if anyone noticed their strong strides and solemn deportment, they didn't stop to question them.

Tess gloried in the dark power she found within herself. She had experienced many kinds of strength in the past, in the different animal forms she had assumed, but she had never imagined that a human shape could make her feel like this. It was wonderful to be able to walk the city streets at night in full view of any watching eyes and know that she was invulnerable. She could do anything, go anywhere she liked; no one could stop her, no one could harm her in any way.

She turned towards her companion and the two of them exchanged grim smiles of complicity. But even as they did so, Tess knew that she wouldn't care if she never saw him again. Let them hunt together tonight; let her learn from him whatever she had to know. After that she was on her own, gloriously alone, for ever.

Literally for ever. For all eternity. Because vampires live for ever, spreading their condition like a disease to everyone they feed upon. Unless they are unlucky, that is. Unless someone discovers their existence and tracks them down to their hiding place and drives a stake through their heart. But who, these days, believes in vampires?

Tess laughed to herself, quietly, and discovered the new sound of her voice. She liked it; it was dark and husky, as different from her human voice as Martin's was from his. She knew that it would be as hypnotic to a potential victim as a mongoose's dance is to a snake. All she needed now was an opportunity to try it out.

Although it was the early hours of the morning, the streets were not empty. Taxis serviced the nightlife of the city, twisting through the quiet streets. Occasionally a police car cruised past; occasionally a speeding biker, revving hard. Drifters idled their way home from pubs and night-clubs, and homeless people beat the streets to keep themselves warm. Every time they came within a few metres of another human being, Tess felt her hunger gnaw at her, as though she had come in from a long day at school and smelt dinner roasting in the oven. But her companion kept well away from anyone else on the street, and she decided to stay close. The two of them let everything pass them by, like lions walking peacefully through a herd of small game, their attention fixed on better things.

‘Why the docks?' said Tess, as they first came in sight of the river.

‘Good hunting ground,' said Martin.

‘But we've passed plenty of possibilities,' said Tess. ‘What's so special about the docks?'

‘Dark, for one thing,' said Martin. ‘And for another thing, who wants to drink the blood of boozers and dossers? It's weak and impure. Gives me a headache.'

Tess looked at him carefully, but he didn't appear to be joking. He pulled up his coat collar as he stepped on to the bridge and, aware of the bright street lights all the way across, Tess followed suit.

On the other side of the river they turned right. A few cars were parked beside the road, and in one of them two men were sitting. Tess glanced through the window as she passed by. One of the men was reading a newspaper, the other was pulling absently at the crease in his trousers.

‘No good?' she said to Martin as they walked on.

‘Cops,' he said. ‘Plain clothes. Not bad, if you like cholesterol.'

Tess peered into his shaded eyes and he grinned at her. This time he was joking.

‘My tastes aren't that refined,' he said. ‘Not yet, anyway. Too much light, though. Be patient.'

They walked on until they came to the first of the ships moored up against the river wall, then crossed over the road and turned up a dark side-street.

‘Now we're in good hunting grounds,' said Martin. He slowed the pace a bit and became more watchful, looking casually but carefully into parked cars and checking out the yards that opened off the street. On the corner, a man and a woman were sitting in a high-bodied van. They looked anxiously at the two Switchers as they passed. Martin took no notice of them.

‘Dealers,' he said. ‘Small fry, though. They use drugs themselves, just deal to feed their habit. If you could get the guy who supplies them, now, you'd be on to a good thing.'

‘Why?'

‘Because they're usually clean, those fellows. Too careful to get mixed up in the stuff themselves.' He chuckled to himself in a manner that Tess might have found sinister on another occasion, then went on, ‘I've had a good guzzle or two on that kind. Very clean, they tend to be. Very well fed.'

‘Why don't we wait here, then?' said Tess. ‘Someone's going to come and supply those two in the van, aren't they?'

‘I doubt it. That's what the cops are thinking, too. That's why they're there. But the big fish are too smart to get copped that easily. They're somewhere else, you can be sure, laughing their heads off at this lot.'

Tess shrugged and kept pace with Martin as he strode through the streets, always seeking out the darkest ones. As they turned yet another corner, they caught a glimpse of a woman in high heels running across the junction at the other end. Tess's hopes rose. She knew that the two of them could have been on her in a few powerful strides, like greyhounds on a hare, but once again Martin shook his head.

Tess was beginning to lose patience. ‘Why not?' she said. ‘What on earth was wrong with that one?'

‘Nothing, as far as I know,' said Martin. ‘But why run when you don't have to? It's undignified.'

‘What do I care about dignity?' said Tess. ‘I'm hungry.'

Martin stopped abruptly and swung around to face her. ‘Hungry?' he said. ‘What do you know of the hunger of a vampire, eh? I mean the real hunger, not your pathetic peckishness?'

Tess felt her lips draw away from her teeth in an automatic, defensive sneer.

‘You'd better not be hungry,' Martin went on. ‘Not really hungry, I mean. We can live for a long, long time on these streets without raising anyone's suspicions, but not if we let our appetites run away with us.'

‘I don't know what you're talking about,' said Tess.

‘I'm talking about the difference between keeping the wolf from the door and having a real feed. The fact is, you can't be that hungry, any more than I can, because you've had your breakfast and your dinner and your tea at home, haven't you?'

Tess was about to tell him that she hadn't, in fact, what she had eaten that day was breakfast, lunch and dinner, but she decided against it. ‘More or less,' she said.

‘Right,' Martin went on. ‘But if you hadn't, and if you didn't have them yesterday, either, then you'd be really dangerous.'

‘To who?'

‘To us. Because when you pulled someone in. and started feeding, you wouldn't be able to stop.'

‘So what?'

‘So they'd find a dead body, drained of blood, wouldn't they? With two tiny incisions on the neck.'

‘But no one believes in vampires these days.'

‘No. But they soon would if it happened often enough, wouldn't they?'

Tess shrugged. ‘Who cares, anyway?'

‘I do,' said Martin, with cold determination. ‘I plan to live in this city for a very long time. A very, very long time. And I don't plan on being discovered. That means we have to go carefully, drink little and often, so as not to make people suspicious.'

Tess looked up and down the street, sighing with incredulity. ‘You're mad, do you know that?' she said. ‘You're going to feed off a different person every night and you think you can get away with it? You think your victims are going to shake your hand and say, “You're welcome, come again?” Don't be ridiculous! All right, the police won't believe the first, person who complains, but they'll believe the tenth and the eleventh and the twenty-first!'

The creamy quality slipped back into Martin's voice. ‘You haven't read the literature, have you?'

‘What literature?'

‘All there is. On vampires. Our victims forget, didn't you know that? They pass out as we feed and go to sleep. When they wake up they feel a bit weak and fuzzy-headed, but they have no memory of us at all. And who's going to notice a couple of pinpricks on their throat? Specially if we're careful.'

Tess looked Martin straight in the eye, still wishing she could win the point but knowing she was beaten. At last she smiled mischievously, and nodded.

‘Understood,' she said.

They resumed their patrol, silent and agile as cats on the frosty street. They turned again, following the darkness wherever they could and then, as they passed the open doors of an abandoned coal-merchant's, Martin stopped and sniffed the air. Tess joined him and immediately caught the same scent. There were two people nearby. Very nearby.

Stealthily; the two vampires slipped into the yard. In the nearest corner, hidden from the street by the open corrugated iron door, a car was parked. Quite a new car, clean and without a scratch. Martin crouched low and crept up to the driver's door, Tess on his heels. Under the cover of almost perfect darkness, they peered into the car, their vampire eyes penetrating the dim interior. Tess had expected the couple to be kissing, but they were sitting apart in total silence as though they had just had an argument. The man, in the driver's seat, was grey-haired and well-dressed. He was staring straight ahead of him, smoking a cigarette. The woman was much younger, with long brown hair and a heavy sheepskin coat. Her face was turned away from him, gazing out of the passenger-side window towards the wall of the yard.

Martin winked. Tess nodded and slipped around to the other side of the car. No midnight feast had ever been more eagerly anticipated than this one.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

T
HE FOLLOWING MORNING WAS
Sunday and Tess slept late. She slept so late that her father slipped into the room to check that she was all right before he went off to play a round of golf with a friend from the office.

‘It's normal for a teenager,' her mother told him when he expressed concern. ‘She'll be up and about soon.'

But when Tess had still not come downstairs by lunch-time, her mother made a cup of tea and brought it up to the bedroom. The first Tess knew of the day was the rattle of the runners on the curtain rail and the subsequent blaze of winter sunlight that fell upon her face. To her, still sleeping off the vampire feed of the night before, the sudden burst of light on her skin felt like a bucket of boiling water. She yelped and sat up, scrabbling for the bed covers.

‘Tess!' said her mother. ‘What on earth is wrong?'

Tess said nothing, but threw herself back down on the bed, pulling the duvet up over her head.

‘Come on, Tess,' said her mother brightly. ‘I've brought you a cup of tea.'

Tess's voice was muffled beneath the duvet. ‘Leave me alone. I don't want to. get up.'

‘But it's one-thirty! If you don't get up soon you'll ‘miss the daylight altogether!'

‘What do I want with daylight?' Tess's voice sounded slightly husky to her mother.

‘Are you ill, sweetheart? Have you got a sore throat?'

‘No. I'm not ill. I just don't want to get up, all right?'

Her mother stayed in the room for another minute or two before deciding not to make an issue of it and returning downstairs. Tess listened to the receding footsteps, then turned over and tried to go back to sleep.

It was too late, though. She was awake now in a groggy, leaden sort of way. The events of the previous night slid into her mind, producing a strange mixture of guilt and delight. She knew that what had happened was wrong, but the memory of the hypnotic power of her vampire eyes and voice still thrilled her, and the sensation of that keen hunger being satisfied. She wondered where the couple from the car were now, and laughed out loud to think of them waking together and wondering how they had come to fall asleep in the first place. She thought of Martin sleeping in his blacked-out room and wondered whether she, like him, could get out of going to school.

Carefully, inch by inch, Tess drew the cover from her face. The light didn't feel so bad, now that the initial shock had passed. She reached for the cup of tea that her mother had left on the bedside table. As she sipped it, she ran her tongue around her mouth, feeling her teeth. They were neat and even again now, the canines back to their normal, blunt condition. But Tess's mind was still functioning along nocturnal lines, and it wasn't until daylight began to fade and her father returned from his game of golf that she finally dragged herself out of bed and went downstairs for a late, late breakfast.

‘Anything special on at school, tomorrow, Tess?' said her father as they sat down to dinner that evening.

Tess had been withdrawn and sullen since she got up. At the best of times she got irritated by her parents' questions about school; now she saw this as a feeble attempt to draw her into a conversation that she didn't want.

‘When is there ever anything special going on in school?' she answered, filling her mouth with roast beef.

Her father sighed and put down his knife and fork. Tess failed to heed the warning and reached out to turn the page of the magazine she had laid open beside her plate. He whipped it out from under her nose and flung it with a slap on to the floor. Tess's mother jumped at the uncharacteristic display of anger.

BOOK: Midnight's Choice
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