Harkat and I weren't sure what to make of Darius. It seemed unlikely that the vampaneze would recruit children. But there was the twisted mind of their leader, Steve Leopard, to take into account. This could be one of his evil, hate-fuelled games. We decided to take the boy to one side when he came to the show, and pump him for information. We wouldn't resort to torture or anything so drastic - just try to scare a few answers out of him.
We were supposed to help the performers get ready for the show, but we told Mr Tall we were busy and he assigned our tasks to other members of the troupe. If he knew about our plans for Darius, he didn't say so.
There were two entrances to the big top. Shortly before the audience started to arrive, Harkat and I each took up a position close to one of the entry points, where we could watch for Darius. I was still worried about being recognized by somebody who'd known me in the past, so I stood in the shadows beside the entrance, disguised in a set of Harkat's blue robes, the hood pulled up to hide my face. I watched silently as the early birds trickled in, handing their tickets to Jekkus Flang (Mr Tall was on the other entrance). With every third or fourth customer, Jekkus threw their ticket into the air, then launched a knife at it, spearing it through the middle and pinning it to a nearby post.
As the trickle of people turned into a steady stream, and Jekkus pinned more and more tickets to the pole, the tickets and knives took on the outline of a hanged man. People chuckled edgily when they realized what Jekkus was doing. A few paused to commend him on his knife-throwing skills, but most hurried past to their seats, some glancing backwards at the figure of the hanged man, perhaps wondering if it was an omen of things to come.
I ignored the hanged man - I'd seen Jekkus perform this trick many times before - and focused on the faces in the crowd. It was hard to note everybody who passed in the crush, especially short people. Even if Darius entered this way, there was no guarantee I'd spot him.
Towards the end of the line, as the last members of the audience were filing in, Jekkus gave a gasp of surprise and abandoned his post. "Tom Jones!" he shouted, bounding forward. "What an honour!"
It was the town's famous goalkeeper, Tom Jones - my old school friend!
Tommy smiled awkwardly and shook Jekkus's hand.
"Hi," he coughed, looking around to see if anyone else had noticed him. Apart from those nearest us, nobody had - all eyes were fixed on the stage, as everyone awaited the start of the show.
"I've seen you play!" Jekkus enthused. "I don't get to many games - the curse of travelling - but I've made it to a few. You're awesome! Do you think we'll win tomorrow? I wanted to get a ticket, but they were sold out."
"It's a big match," Tommy said. "I could try to get one for you, but I don't think?"
"That's OK," Jekkus interrupted. "I'm not trying to shake you down for free tickets. Just wanted to wish you good luck. Now, speaking of tickets, could I see yours?"
Tommy gave his ticket to Jekkus, who askedif Tommy would sign it for him. Tommy obliged and Jekkus pocketed the ticket, beaming happily. He offered to find a seat for Tommy near the front, but Tommy said he was happy to sit at the back. "I don't think it would be good for my image if word got out that I came to shows like this," he laughed.
As Tommy made his way to one of the few free seats, I breathed a sigh of relief - he hadn't seen me. The luck of the vampires was on my side. I waited a few more minutes, until the final stragglers had been admitted, then crept out as Jekkus closed off the entrance. I linked up with Harkat.
"Did you see him?" I asked.
"No," Harkat said. "You?"
"No. But I saw an old friend." I told him about Tom Jones.
"Could it be a setup?" Harkat asked.
"I doubt it," I said. "Tommy wanted to come to the Cirque Du Freak the last time it was in town. He's here for the match tomorrow. He must have heard about the show and picked up a ticket - easy when you're a celebrity."
"But isn't it a bit too coincidental that? he's here the same time as us?" Harkat persisted.
"He's here because his team's in the cup semi-final," I reminded Harkat. "Steve couldn't have engineered that - even the Lord of the Vampaneze has his limits!"
"You're right," Harkat laughed. "I really am getting paranoid!"
"Let's forget about Tommy," I said. "What about Darius? Could he have got in without us seeing him?"
"Yes," Harkat said. "It was impossible to identify? everyone who entered. A child could have easily? passed without us noticing."
"Then we've got to go inside and look for him," I said.
"Steady on." Harkat stopped me. "Although your friend Tommy's being here is most likely? nothing to worry about, let's not tempt fate. If you go in, your hood might slip? and he might see you. Leave it to me."
While I waited outside, Harkat entered the tent and patrolled the aisles, checking the faces of every audience member as the show got under way. More than half an hour passed before he emerged.
"I didn't see him," Harkat said.
"Maybe he wasn't able to sneak away from home," I said.
"Or maybe he sensed we were? suspicious of him," Harkat said. "Either way, we can't do anything except? keep watch the rest of the time we're here. He might come sneaking around? by day again."
Although it was anticlimactic, I was glad Darius hadn't shown. I hadn't been looking forward to threatening the boy. It was better this way, for all concerned. And the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous our reaction seemed. Darius had certainly known more about us than any child should, but maybe he'd simply read the right books or found out about us on the Internet. Not many humans know about the true marks of a vampire, or that Little People exist, but the truth (like they used to say on that famous TV show) is out there! There were any number of ways a clued-up kid could have found out the facts about us.
Harkat wasn't as relaxed as I was, and he insisted we stay outside the entrances until the show finished, in case Darius turned up late. There was no harm in being cautious, so I kept watch throughout the rest of the show, listening to the gasps, screams and applause of the people inside the tent. I slipped away a few minutes before the end and collected Harkat. We hid in a van as the crowd poured out, and only emerged when the final excited customer had left the stadium.
We gathered with most of the performers and backstage crew in a tent behind the big top, for the post-show party. There wasn't a celebration after each performance, but we liked to let our hair down every once in a while. It was a hard life on the road, driving long distances, working doggedly, keeping a low profile so as not to attract attention. It was good to chill out every so often.
There were a few guests in the tent - police officers, council officials, wealthy businessmen. Mr Tall knew how to grease the right palms, to make life easy for us.
Our visitors were particularly interested in Harkat. The normal audience members hadn't seen the grey-skinned Little Person. This was a chance for the special guests to experience something different, which they could boast about to their friends. Harkat knew what was expected of him and he let the humans examine him, telling them a bit about his past, politely answering their questions.
I sat in a quiet corner of the tent, munching a sandwich, washing it down with water. I was getting ready to leave when Jekkus Flang pushed his way through a knot of people and introduced me to the guest he'd just led into the tent. "Darren, this is the world's best goalkeeper, Tom Jones. Tom, this is my good friend and fellow workmate, Darren Shan."
I groaned and closed my eyes. So much for the luck of the vampires.' I heard Tommy gasp with recognition. Opening my eyes, I forced a smile, stood, shook Tommy's hand - his eyes were bulging out of his head - and said, "Hello, Tommy. It's been a long time. Can I get you something to drink?"