WE SPENT Saturday and Sunday exploring the tunnels. Harkat and Steve carried arrow guns. They were simple to use - load an arrow, point and fire. Deadly up to a range of twenty metres. As a vampire, I'd sworn not to use such weapons, so I had to make do with my usual short sword and knives.

We started with the area where Steve had first spotted 'Hooky', in the hope of finding some trace of him or his companions. We took the tunnels one at a time, examining the walls for marks of vampaneze nails or hooks, listening carefully for sounds of life, keeping within sight of each other. We moved swiftly at first - Steve knew these tunnels - but when our search extended to new, unfamiliar sections, we advanced more cautiously.

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We found nothing.

That night, after a long wash and simple meal together, we talked some more. Steve hadn't changed much. He was as lively and funny as ever, although he'd sometimes get a faraway look in his eyes and fall silent, perhaps thinking about the vampaneze he'd killed or the path in life he'd chosen. He got nervous whenever talk swung round to Mr. Crepsley. Steve had never forgotten the vampire's reason for rejecting him - Mr. Crepsley said Steve had bad blood and was evil - and didn't think the vampire would be glad to see him.

"I don't know why he thought I was evil," Steve grumbled. "I was wild as a kid, sure, but never evil - was I, Darren?"

"Of course not," I said.

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"Maybe he mistook determination for evil," Steve mused. "When I believe in a cause, I'll commit to it wholeheartedly. Like my quest to kill vampaneze. Most humans couldn't kill another living being, even a killer. They'd rather turn them over to the law. But I'll go on killing vampaneze until I die. Maybe Mr. Crepsley saw my ability to kill and confused it with a desire to kill."

We had lots of dark conversations like that, talking about the human soul and the nature of good and evil. Steve had devoted many long hours to Mr. Crepsley's cruel judgement. He was almost obsessed with it. "I can't wait to prove him wrong," he smiled. "When he learns I'm on his side, helping the vampires in spite of his rejecting me... That's something I'm looking forward to."

When the weekend drew to a close, I had a decision to make regarding school. I didn't want to bother with Mahler's - it seemed a waste of time - but there was Debbie and Mr. Blaws to consider. If I dropped out suddenly, without a reason, the inspector would come looking for me. Steve said this wasn't a problem, that we could switch to another hotel, but I didn't want to leave until Mr. Crepsley returned. The Debbie situation was even more complicated. The vampaneze now knew she was connected to me, and where she lived. Somehow I had to convince her to move to a new apartment - but how? What sort of a story could I concoct to persuade her to leave home?

I decided to go to school that Monday morning, mostly to sort things out with Debbie. With my other teachers, I'd pretend I was coming down with a virus, so they wouldn't suspect anything was amiss when I didn't turn up the next day. I didn't think Mr. Blaws would be sent to investigate before the weekend - missing three or four days was hardly unusual - and by the time he did, Mr. Crepsley would have hopefully returned. When he was back, we could sit down and establish a definite plan..

Steve and Harkat were going to continue hunting for the vampaneze when I was at school, but agreed to be careful, and promised not to engage them by themselves if they found any.

At Mahler's, I looked for Debbie before classes began. I was going to tell her that an enemy from my past had found out I was seeing her, and I feared he planned to hurt her, to get at me. I'd say he didn't know where she worked, just where she lived, so if she found somewhere new for a few weeks and didn't go back to her old apartment, she'd be fine.

It was a weak story, but I could think of nothing better. I'd plead with her if I had to, and do all in my power to persuade her to heed my warning. If that failed, I'd have to consider kidnapping her and locking her up to protect her.

But there was no sign of Debbie at school. I went to the staffroom during the break, but she hadn't turned up for work and nobody knew where she was. Mr. Chivers was with the teachers and he was furious. He couldn't stand it when people - teachers or students - didn't call in before going absent.

I returned to class with a sinking feeling in my gut. I wished I'd asked Debbie to contact me with her new address, but hadn't thought of that when I'd told her to move. Now there was no way for me to check on her.

The two hours of classes and first forty minutes of lunch were some of the most miserable moments of my life. I wanted to flee the school and dash round to Debbie's old apartment, to see if there was any sign of her there. But I realized that it would be better not to act at all than to act in panic. It was tearing me apart, but it would be for the best if I waited for my head to clear before I went investigating.

Then, at ten to two, something wonderful happened - Debbie arrived! I was moping about in the computer room - Richard had sensed my dark mood and left me alone - when I saw her pulling up outside the back of the school in a car accompanied by two men and a woman - all three dressed in police uniforms! Getting out, she entered the building with the woman and one of the men.

Hurrying, I caught up with her on her way to Mr. Chivers' office. "Miss Hemlock!" I shouted, alarming the policeman, who turned quickly, hand going for a weapon on his belt. He stopped when he saw my school uniform and relaxed. I raised a shaking hand. "Could I talk to you for a minute, Miss?"

Debbie asked the officers if she could have a few words with me. They nodded, but kept a close watch on us. "What's going on?" I whispered.

"You don't know?" She'd been crying and her face was a mess. I shook my head. "Why did you tell me to leave?" she asked, and there was surprising bitterness in her voice.

"It's complicated."

"Did you know what was going to happen? If you did, I'll hate you forever!"

"Debbie, I don't know what you're talking about. Honestly."

She studied my face for a hint of a lie. Finding none, her expression softened. "You'll hear about it on the news soon," she muttered, "so I guess it doesn't matter if I break it to you now, but don't tell anyone else." She took a deep breath. "I left on Friday when you told me. Booked into a hotel, even though I thought you were crazy."

She paused. "And?" I prompted her.

"Somebody attacked the people in the apartments next to mine," she said. "Mr. and Mrs Andrews, and Mr. Hugon. You never met them, did you?"

"I saw Mrs Andrews once." I licked my lips nervously. "Were they killed?" Debbie nodded. Fresh tears sprung to her eyes. "And drained of blood?" I croaked, dreading the answer.

"Yes."

I looked away, ashamed. I never thought the vampaneze would go after Debbie's neighbours. I'd had only her welfare in mind, not anybody else's. I should have staked out her building, anticipating the worst. Three people were dead because I hadn't.

"When did it happen?" I asked sickly.

"Late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. The bodies were discovered yesterday afternoon, but the police didn't track me down until today. They've kept it quiet, but I think the news is breaking. There were news teams swarming around the building when I passed on my way over here."

"Why did the police want to track you down?" I asked.

She glared at me. "If the people either side of the apartment where you lived were killed, and you were nowhere to be found, don't you think the police would look for you too?" she snapped.

"Sorry. Dumb question. I wasn't thinking straight."

Lowering her head, she asked very quietly, "Do you know who did it?"

I hesitated before replying. "Yes and no. I don't know their names, but I know what they are and why they did it."

"You must tell the police," she said.

"It wouldn't help. This is beyond them."

Looking at me through her tears, she said, "I'll be released later this evening. They've taken my statement, but they want to run me through it a few more times. When they release me, I'm coming to put some hard questions to you. If I'm not happy with your answers, I'll turn you over to them."

"Thank-" She swivelled sharply and stormed off, joining the police officers and proceeding on to Mr. Chivers' office "-you," I finished to myself, then slowly headed back for class. The bell rang, signalling the end of lunch - but to me it sounded like a death knell.

   

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