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     Black Blood, p.1

       part  #2 of  The Last Vampire Series  by  Christopher Pike / Young Adult / Horror
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Black Blood

Chapter 1
I walk the dark and dangerous streets of L. A. gang?land. A seemingly helpless young woman with silky blond hair and magnetic blue eyes. Moving down filth-strewn alleys and streets where power is mea?sured in drops of blood spilled by bullets sprayed from adolescent males who haven't learned to drive yet. I am near the housing projects, those archaic hotels of hostility where the checkout fee is always higher than the price of admission. Because of my supernormal senses, I know I am surrounded by people who would slit my throat as soon as ask the time of day or night. But I am not helpless or afraid, especially in the dark at night, for I am not human. I, Alisa Perne of the twentieth century, Sita of the ancient past. I am five thousand years old, one of the last of two vampires.

But are there only two of us left? I ask myself.

Something is terribly wrong in gangland L. A. , and it makes me wonder. In the last month the Los Angeles Times has reported a string of brutal murders that leads me to believe Ray and I are not the only ones with the special blood that makes us impervious to aging and most other human ailments. The victims of these murders have been ripped open, decapitated, and, in some cases, the articles say, drained of blood. It is this last fact that has brought me to Los Angeles. I myself like blood, but I am not eager to find more vampires. I know what our kind can do, and I know how fast we can multiply once the secret of procrea?tion is known. Any vampire I may find this evening will not live to see the light of dawn, or perhaps I should say the setting of the moon. I am not crazy about the sun, although I can bear it if I must.

A full moon rides high above me as I step onto Exposition Avenue and head north, not far from where the last murder occurred-a sixteen-year-old girl found yesterday in the bushes with both her arms torn off. It is late, after midnight, and even though it is mid-December, the temperature is in the midsixties. Winter in Los Angeles is like a moon made of green cheese, a joke. I wear black leather pants, a short-sleeved black top that shows my sleek midsection. My black boots barely sound as I prowl the uneven sidewalks. I wear my hair pinned up beneath a black cap. I love the color black as much as the color red. I know I look gorgeous. Cool stainless steel touches my right calf where I have hidden a six-inch blade, but otherwise I am unarmed. There are many police cars out this fine winter night. One passes me on the left as I lower my head and try to look like I belong. Because I fear being stopped and searched, I do not carry a gun. But it is only for the lives of the police that I fear, and not for my own. A whole S. W. A. T. team couldn't stop me. Certainly, I decide, a young vampire will be no match for me. And he or she must be young to be killing so recklessly.

But who is this youngster? And who made him or her?

Disturbing questions.

Three young males wait for me a hundred yards down the street. I cross to the other side, but they move to intercept me. One is tall and slim, the other squat as an old stump. The third has the face of a dark angel brought up on the wrong side of the pearly gates. He is clearly the leader. He smiles as he sees me trying to get away from him and his buddies, flexing his powerful biceps as if they were laws unto themselves. I see he carries a gun under his dirty green coat. The others are unarmed. The three jog toward me as I pause to consider what to do. Of course, I could turn and flee. Even if they were in training for the Olym?pics, they couldn't catch me. But I don't like to run from a fight, and I am suddenly thirsty. The smile of the leader will fade, I know, as he feels the blood drain from his body into my mouth. I decide to wait for them. I don't have long to wait.

"Hey, babe," the leader says as they surround me in a fidgety semicircle. "What you doin' here by your lonesome? Lost?"

I appear at ease. "No. I'm just out for a walk. What are you guys up to?"

They exchange smirks. They are up to no good. "What's your name?" the leader asks.

"Alisa. What's yours?"

He grins like the young god he thinks he is. "Paul. Hey, you's one beautiful woman, Alisa, you know that? And I appreciate beauty when I see it. "

"I bet you do, Paul. Do you appreciate danger when you see it, too?"

They cackle. I am funny, they think. Paul slaps his leg as he laughs. "Are you saying you're dangerous, Alisa?" he asks. "You look like a party babe to me. Me and my stooges, we're going to a party right now. You want to come? It's goin' to be hot. "

I consider. "Are you three the only ones going to this party?"

Paul likes it that I'm sharp. "Maybe. But maybe that's all you need. " He takes a step closer. There is alcohol on his breath-a Coors beer-Marlboro ciga?rettes in his coat pocket close to his gun. A brave boy, he puts his right hand on my left shoulder, and his grin is now more of a leer. He adds, "Or maybe all you need is me, babe. What do you say? Want to party?"

I look him in the eye. "No. "

He blinks suddenly. My gaze has been known to burn mortal pupils when I give it free rein. But I have held something in check for Paul, and so he is intrigued, not scared. He continues to hold on to my shoulder.

"You don't want to go sayin' no to me, honey. I don't like that word. "

"Really. "

He glances back at his friends and then nods gravely in my direction. "You don't look like you's from around here. But around here, there's two ways to party. You either do it with a smile on your face or you do it screaming. You know what I mean, Alisa?"

I smile, finally. "Are you going to rape me, Paul?"

He shrugs. "It's up to you, honeysuckle. " He draws his piece from his coat, a Smith & Wesson . 45 revolver that he probably got for his last birthday. He presses the muzzle beneath my chin. "And it's up to Colleen. "

"You call your gun Colleen?"

He nods seriously. "She's a lady. Never lets me down. "

My smile grows. "Paul, you are such a simpleton. You can't rape me. Put it out of your mind if you want to be alive come Christmas Day. It's just not going to happen. "

My boldness surprises him, angers him. But he quickly grins because his friends are watching and he has to be cool and in control. He presses the gun deeper into my neck, trying to force my head back. But, of course, I don't move an inch, and this confuses him as much as my casual tone.

"You tell me why I can't just have you right now?" he asks. "You tell me, Alisa. Huh? Before I blow your goddamn head off. "

"Because I'm armed as well, Paul. "

He blinks-my gaze is beginning to fry his brain. "What you got?"

"A knife. A very sharp knife. Do you want to see it?"

He takes a step back, letting go of me, and levels the gun at my belly. "Show it to me," he orders.

I raise my right leg in front of him. My balance is as solid as that of a marble statue. "It's under my pant leg. Take it out and maybe we can have a little duel. "

Acting like a stud, throwing his pals a lecherous glance, Paul cautiously reaches up inside my pant leg. Throughout the act, he doesn't realize how close he is to having his head removed by my right foot. But I have compassion, and I don't like to drink from a gusher-it might stain my clothes. Paul's eyes widen as he feels the knife and quickly pulls it free from the leather strap. He handles it lovingly, showing his friends. I wait, acting impatient.

"I want it back," I say finally. "We cannot duel if you hold both weapons. "

Paul can't believe me. He is tired of my insolent manner. I begin to tire of him as well. "You's a smart-mouthed bitch. Why should I give you this knife? You might stick it in me while I'm lovin' you. "

I nod. "Oh, I'm going to stick it in you, be sure of that. I don't mind that you and your buddies prowl these streets like hungry panthers. This is a jungle and only the strong survive. I understand that, better than you can imagine. But even the jungle has rules. Don't take what you don't need, and if you do, be a sportsman about it. But you're not a sportsman, Paul. You have taken my knife and I want it back. Give it to me right now or you will suffer unpleasantly. " I stick out my hand and add in a voice as dark as my long life, "Very unpleasantly. "

His anger shows; his cheeks darken with blood. He is not a true animal of the jungle, or he would recognize a poisonous snake when he saw it. He is a coward. Rather than hand over my knife, he tries to slash my open palm with it. Of course he misses because my hand is no longer where it was an instant before. I have withdrawn it to my side, at the same time launching my left foot at his gun. I hit only the revolver, not his hand, and see what the other three don't-the weapon landing on the roof of a three-story apartment complex off to one side. Paul's bud?dies back up, but he continues looking for his gun. His mouth works, but words are slow to form.

"Huh?" he finally says.

I reach out and grab him by the hair, pulling him close, my left hand closing on his hand that holds my knife. Now he feels my gaze as beamed through a magnifying glass set in the hot sun. He trembles in my grip, and for the first time he must realize how many different kinds of animals are in the jungle. I lean close to his ear and speak softly.

"I see that you have killed before, Paul. That's OK-I have killed, too, many times. I am much older than I look, and as you now know, I am also much stronger. I am going to kill you, but before I do I want to know if you have any final requests. Tell me quick, I'm in a hurry. "

He turns his head away, but his eyes cannot escape mine. He tries to pull away and finds we are momentarily welded together. Sweat drips from his face like the river of tears the families of his victims have shed. His partners back farther away. Paul's lower lip trembles.

"Who are you?" he gasps.

I smile. "I'm a party girl, like you said. " I lose my smile. "No final requests? Too bad. Say goodbye to mortality. Say hello to the devil for me. Tell him I'll be there soon, to join you. "

My words, a poor joke to torment a victim I care nothing for. Yet there is a grain of truth in them. I feel a wave of pain in my chest as I pull Paul closer. It is from the wound when a stake impaled me the night Yaksha perished, a wound that never really healed. Since that night, six weeks earlier, I have never been totally free of pain. And I have begun to suspect I never will be. The full extent of the anguish comes upon me at unexpected moments, fiery waves that roll up like lava. I gag and have to bend over and close my eyes. I have suffered a hundred serious injuries in my fifty centuries, I tell myself. Why does this one not leave me in peace? Truly, a life in constant pain is the life of the damned.

Yet I did not disobey Krishna when I made Ray- not really, I try to convince myself.

Even Yaksha believed I still had the Lord's grace.

"Oh, God," I whisper and clench Paul's blood-filled body to me as if it were a bandage that could seal my invisible scar. I feel myself begin to faint, but just when I feel I can take no more of the surging pain, I hear footsteps in the distance. Quick-sounding foot?steps, moving with the speed and power of an immor?tal. The shock of this realization is like cold water on my burning agony. There is another vampire nearby! I jerk upright, open my eyes. Paul's buddies are fifty feet away and still backing up. Paul looks at me as if he is staring into his own coffin.

"I didn't mean to hurt you, Alisa," he mumbles.

I suck in a deep breath, my heartbeat roaring in my ears. "Yes, you did," I reply and slam the knife down into his right thigh, just above the knee. The blade goes in cleanly, and the tip comes out red and dripping on the other side. An expression of pure horror grips his face, but I have no more time for his excuses. I have bigger game to bag. As I let go of him, he falls to the ground like a trash can that has been kicked over. Turning, I run in the direction of the immortal's footsteps. I leave my knife behind for Paul to enjoy.

The person is a quarter mile away, on the rooftops, leaping from building to building. I cut the distance in half before leaping onto the roofs myself, getting above the three stories in two long steps. Dashing between shattered chimneys and rusty fans, I catch a glimpse of my quarry-a twenty-year-old African-American male youth with muscles bulky enough to squash TVs. Yet a vampire's strength has little to do with this muscle power. Power is related to the purity of the blood, the intensity of the soul, the length of the life. I, who was created at the dawn of civiliza?tion by Yaksha, the first of the vampires, am exceptionally strong. Leaping through the air, I know I can catch the other vampire in a matter of seconds. Yet I hold back on purpose. I wish to see where he leads me.

That my prey is indeed a vampire I don't doubt for a second. His every movement matches those of a newborn blood sucker. Also, vampires emit a very subtle fragrance, the faint odor of snake venom, and the soul who runs before me smells like a huge black serpent. The smell is not unpleasant, rather intoxicat?ing to most mortals. I have often used it in the past, on lovers and foes alike. Yet I doubt this young man is even aware of it.

But he is aware of me, oh, yes. He doesn't stop to attack, but continues to run away-he is afraid. I ponder this. How does he know my power? Who told him? My questions are all the same. Who made him? It is my hope that he runs to his maker for help. The pain in my chest has subsided, but I am still thirsty, still anxious for the hunt. To a vampire, another vampire's blood can be a special treat, salt and pepper sprinkled on a rare steak. I move forward without fear. If the guy has partners, so be it. I will destroy them all and then fly back to Oregon in my private jet before the sun comes up, my veins and belly full. Briefly I wonder how Ray is doing without me. His adjustment to being a vampire has been long and painful. I know, without me there, be will not feed.

I hear an ice-cream truck nearby.

In the middle of the night. Odd.

My prey comes to the end of the row of apartment buildings and leaps to the ground with one long flying stride. He stumbles as he contacts the earth. I could take this opportunity to land on his back and break every bone in his spine, but I let him continue on his way. I now know where he is headed-Exposition Park, the home of L. A. 's museums, Memorial Sports Arena, and Memorial Coliseum. It is the Coliseum, where the 1984 Olympics were held, that I guess, is his ultimate destination. He speeds across the vacant parking lot like the Roadrunner in the cartoon. It is lucky there are no mortals standing around to watch me chase him because I am the Coyote, and this is not Saturday morning TV. I am going to catch him, and there will be little of him left when I am done.

The tall fence surrounding the Coliseum is already broken open, and this fact slows me slightly. Briefly I reconsider my boldness. I can easily handle five or six vampires such as the guy I am chasing, but not a dozen, certainly not a hundred. And how many there are, I really don't know. For me the Coliseum may turn out to be like the one in ancient Rome. Yet I am a gladiator at heart, and although I enter the Coliseum cautiously, I do not stop.

I am inside the structure only two minutes when I smell blood. A moment later I find the mangled body of a security guard. Flies buzz above his ripped-out throat; he has been dead several hours. My prey has slipped from my view, but I follow his movements with my ears. I am on the lower level, in the shadows beneath the stands. He is inside the Coliseum proper, running up the bleachers. My hearing stretches out, an expanding wave of invisible radar, as I stand rock still. There are three other souls in the Coliseum, and none of them is human. I track the steps. They meet together at the north end of the building, speak softly, then fan out to the far comers. I doubt that they know my exact whereabouts, but their plan is clear. They wish to surround me, come at me from every direction. I don't wish to disappoint them.

Leaving my shelter, I stride openly down a concrete tunnel and out onto the field, where the moon shim?mers on the grass like radioactivity on an atomic blast sight. I see the four vampires at the same time they see me. They pause as I hurry to the fifty-yard line. Let them come to me, I think. I want time to observe them, see if they have weapons. A bullet in the brain, a knife in the heart, might kill me, although the wooden stake through my chest did not, six weeks ago. The pain awakens with the memory, but I will it away. These four are my problem now.

The moon is almost straight overhead. Three vam?pires continue to move to their corners; the one at the north end is in place and stands motionless, watching me. He is the only Caucasian, tall, thin, his bony hands like a fossilized skeleton. Even in the silver light, in the distance, I note the startling green of his eyes, the bloodshot veins that surround his glowing pupils like the strings of a red-stained spiderweb. He is the leader, and the cocky smile on his acne-scarred face reveals his confidence. He is thirty, maybe, but he will get no older, because I believe he is about to die. He is the one I wish to question, to drink from. I think of the security guard, the girl in the morning's paper. I will kill him slowly and enjoy it.

None of them appears to carry any weapons, but I look around for one for myself, regretting the loss of my knife, which I can fling over a quarter of a mile with deadly accuracy. It is mid-December, as I have said, but I see a collection of track and field equipment at the side of the field. The person in charge of equipment must have forgotten to put it away. I note the presence of a javelin. As the leader studies me, I move casually in the direction of the equipment. But he is sharp, this cold, ugly man, and he knows what I am going for. With a hand movement he signals to his partners to start toward me.

The three dark figures move quickly down the steps. In seconds they have cleared the bleachers and leaped onto the track that surrounds the field. But in those seconds I have reached the equipment and lifted the javelin in my right hand. It is a pity there is only one spear. I raise my empty left hand in the direction of the leader, still far away at the top of the bleachers.

"I would like to talk," I call. "But I am fully capable of defending myself. "

The smile on the leader's face, over two hundred yards away, broadens. His goons also grin, although not with the same confidence. They know I am a vampire. They eye the javelin and wonder what I will do with it, such silly young immortals. I keep an eye on all three of them, although I continue to face in the direction of the leader.

"It is always a mistake to decide to die hastily," I call.

The leader reaches behind and removes a knife from his back pocket. There is fresh blood on the tip, I see. I am not worried that he can hit me from such a distance since my ability with my knife has only come after centuries of practice. Yet he handles the weapon skillfully, balancing it in his open palm. The young man whom I chased into the Coliseum is in front of me, between me and the leader. Four against one, I think. I will improve the odds. In a move too swift for mortal eyes to follow, I launch my javelin toward the young man. Too late he realizes my strength and agility. He tries to jump aside but the tip catches him square in the chest, going through his rib cage and spine. I hear the blood explode in his ruptured heart. A death grunt escapes his lip as he topples, the long sharp object sticking through his body.

I hear the whistle of a flying blade.

Too late I realize the skill of the leader.

I dodge to the left, fast enough to save my own heart but not fast enough to avoid having the knife planted in my right shoulder near my arm socket-up to the hilt. The pain is immense, and a wave of weakness shakes my limbs. Without wanting to, I fall to my knees, reaching up to pull out the blade. The other two run toward me at high speed, and I know it will be a matter of seconds before they are on me. Taking his time, the leader begins to descend the steps of the bleachers. I realize that the knife I have in me is my own. Obviously the leader observed my little episode with Paul, and yet had time to relieve him of my knife and be here to meet me at the Coliseum. How powerful is he? Can I, wounded as I already am, handle him?

I suspect Paul is no longer suffering any pain from his leg wound.

The other two vampires, not the leader, are my immediate problem. I manage to pull the knife free just as the first one lowers his head to ram me. In a slashing motion I let fly my blade and watch as it goes deep into the top of the man's cranium. Yet I am too weak to dodge aside, and although already dead, he strikes me and knocks me over. I hit the ground hard, two hundred pounds of human meat on top of me. Blood pours over my side from a severed artery deep in my shoulder and for a moment I fear I will pass out. But I do not lie down easily, not while an enemy still stands. I shake off the dead vampire as the third one raises a foot to stomp my face. This one lacks speed, however, and I am able to avoid the blow. Still on the ground, rolling in my own blood, I lash out with my left foot and catch his right shin below the knee, breaking the bone. He lets out a cry and falls, and I am on him in an instant, pinning his massive black arms to the grass carpet with my knees. In the distance I see the leader continue to approach slowly, still confident I will be there, easy prey. For the first time I wonder if I should stay around. I have no time to question the vampire below me at length, as I would like to. I grab his hair, pulling at the roots.

"Who is your leader?" I demand. "What's his name?"

He cannot be more than twenty-five and have been a vampire for longer than a month. A babe in the woods. He doesn't realize the full extent of his peril, even after having seen what I did to his friends. He sneers at me and I believe he will have a short experience at immortality.

"Go to hell, bitch," he says.

"Later," I reply. Had the situation been different I would have reasoned with him, tortured him. Instead I wrap my hands around his neck, and before he can cry out, I twist his head all the way around, breaking every bone in his neck. He goes lifeless beneath me. The next moment I am up and removing my knife from the skull of victim number two. The leader sees me grasp the weapon, but neither accelerates nor slows his approach. His expression is an odd mixture of detachment and eagerness. Indeed, only fifty yards from me now, he looks like a neon nutcase. Well, I think, he will be a dead nut in a moment. Placing the knife in my left palm, I cock my arm and let the blade fly, aiming directly for his heart, as he aimed for mine. I know that I will not miss.

And I don't, in a sense. But I do.

He catches the knife in midair, inches from his chest.

He catches it by the handle, something even I could not do.

"Oh, no," I whisper. The guy has the power of Yaksha.

I don't suppose he wants to talk out our difficulties.

Turning, I bolt for the tunnel through which I entered the field. My shoulder throbs, my heart pounds. Each step I take I feel will be my last The knife will come hurtling again, cut me between the shoulder blades, plunge deep into my heart, which has already been so badly injured. Maybe it will be for the best. Maybe then the pain will finally stop. But, in my heart, I don't want it to stop. Because the pain at least makes me know that I am alive, and I cherish my life above all things, even if I do sometimes take life casually from others. And if I do die, before he dies, what will become of life on earth? No question. I know this guy is bad news.

Yet he does not cut me down. He does not, however, let me go, either. I hear him accelerate behind me, and I understand he wants to talk to me-under his own terms-before he drinks my blood. He wants to suck away all my power and feel me die in his arms. But that, I swear, is a privilege he will not have.

Running down the long concrete tunnel, my boots pound like machine gun bullets, his steps like burning tracers behind me, closing, yard by yard. I simply do not have the strength to outrun him. Yet it is not my intention to try. After killing the security guard, these brothers of the night did not bother to remove the man's revolver. Entering the Coliseum, overconfident in my invincibility, I didn't either. But now that gun is my last hope. If I can get to it before my assailant gets to me, I can teach him what it is like to bleed from terrible wounds. I am not large, only ninety-eight

pounds naked, and I have already lost at least two pints of blood. Desperately I need to stop, to catch my breath and heal. The security guard's gun can give me that opportunity.

I reach the corpse with the monster only a hundred feet behind me. In a flash he realizes my plan. As I pull the revolver free of its holster, out the corner of my eye I see the powerful vampire wind up with the knife. He will use it now, and not care if he spills what is left of my blood. He must know how difficult bullets are to catch, to dodge, especially when fired by another vampire. Yet I still hope to dodge this knife throw. Gripping the gun firmly, I leap up as I pivot, flying high into the air. Unfortunately, my maneuver does not catch him by surprise. As I open fire, his knife, my knife, for the second time, plunges into my body, into my abdomen, near my belly button. It hurts. God, I cannot believe how unlucky I am. Yet there is a chance I can survive, and his good fortune is surely over. While coming down from my leap, I open fire, hitting him as best I can even though he jerks to avoid a fatal wound. I put a bullet in his stomach, one in his neck, his left shoulder, two in his chest. As I hit the ground, I expect him to hit the ground.

But he doesn't. Although staggering, he remains on his feet.

"Oh, Christ," I whisper as I fall to my knees. Will this bastard not die? Across the black shadows of the underbelly of the bleachers, we stare at each other, both bleeding profusely. For a moment our eyes lock, and more than ever I sense the disturbance in him, a vision of reality that no human or vampire should want to share. I am out of bullets. He seems to smile-I don't know what he finds so amusing. Then he turns and shuffles away, and I cannot see him or hear him. Pulling the knife from my naked belly, I swoon on the ground, trying to breathe through a haze of red agony. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had such a bad night.

Still, I am Sita from the dawn of humanity, a vampire of incomparable resiliency-unless, of course, I am to be compared to him, this fiend whose name I still do not know. He is not dead, I am sure of it. And after maybe twenty minutes of writhing on the concrete, I know I will survive. Finally my wounds begin to close and I am able to sit up and draw in a deep breath. Before taking the stake through the heart, my wounds would have closed in two minutes.

"I must be getting old," I mutter.

I cannot hear any vampires in the vicinity. But police are closing in on the Coliseum. After putting my knife back in its proper place under my pant leg, I stumble back up the concrete tunnel and onto the field. I find a hose and wash off as much blood as possible. My shoulder, my belly-they are not scarred. Yet I have lost much blood and am terribly weak, and now I have to worry about the police. Their cruisers park outside the arena. Somebody must have called about the gunshots. With so many bodies lying around, it would be a mistake to be caught inside the Coliseum. I would be taken downtown for question?ing, where my messy clothes would be difficult to explain. I wonder if I should hide inside until things cool off, but, no, that might take hours, if not days, and I am anxious to return home and speak to Ray to figure out what to do next.

But before I leave the arena, I check on the three vampires to make sure they are indeed dead. It is always possible, despite the severity of their wounds, that they could heal and rise again. To be doubly sure, I crack each of their skulls with the heel of my right boot. The grotesque acts cause me no qualms of conscience. I am, after all, just protecting the officers who might find them.

I hurry in the direction of the least amount of noise and am outside, over the fence, and in the parking lot when a bright searchlight suddenly focuses on me. It is from a cruiser, damn. It pulls up alongside me, and a cop who looks as if he has been eating doughnuts for the last twenty years sticks his head out the passenger side.

"What are you doing here at this time of night, young lady?" he asks.

I appear anxious. "I'm trying to find my car. It broke down about an hour ago and I went looking for help and these boys started chasing me. They threw water balloons at me and threatened me. " I shiver, catching his eye, pressing his belief buttons. "But I managed to get away. "

The cop looks me over from head to foot, but I doubt he notices the bloodstains on my clothes. In the dark they would be hard to see on black clothes. Plus my gaze has shriveled his will. He is swayed by my great beauty, my obvious youth, my long blond hair, which I have let down. He throws his partner behind the wheel a look, then turns back to me and smiles.

"You're lucky all they threw was water balloons," he says. "This is no area to be walking alone at night. Hop in the back and we'll take you back to your car. "

It will appear odd to decline the offer. "Thank you," I say, reaching for the door. I climb in the rear seat of the patrol car. His partner, a younger man, glances back at me.

"Were you inside the Coliseum just now?" he asks.

I catch his eye as well. "No," I say clearly. "How could I possibly be in the Coliseum? The fence is fifteen feet high. "

He nods like a puppet. "We've just had some trouble in the area is all. "

"I understand," I say.

A man calls on their radio. The fat officer explains how they ran into me. The man on the other end is not impressed with my story. He orders them to hold me until he arrives. There is strength in the man's voice, even over the staticky line. I wonder if I will be able to control him as easily as the other two. We sit and wait for the boss to arrive; the officers apologize for the delay. I consider drinking both officers' blood and leaving them dazed and incoherent, but I've always had a thing for cops. The fat one offers me a doughnut, which does little to satisfy my deeper hunger.

The man who arrives is not LAPD but FBI. He pulls up alone in an unmarked car, and I am told to get in up front I do not resist. He introduces himself as Special Agent Joel Drake, and he has an aura of authority about him. A young man, he has blond hair almost as light as my own, and blue eyes as well, although these are darker than mine. He wears a sea blue sport coat, expensive white slacks. He is striking?ly handsome. I feel, as I climb in beside him, like an actor in a series. Agent Vampire-there should be such a show. His face is tan, his features sharp and intelligent. He studies me in the dome light before shutting his door. He notices that I am soaking wet, although, once again, the bloodstains on my black outfit are all but invisible. The other officers drive off.

"What's your name?" he asks.

"Alisa Perne. "

"Where's your car?"

"I don't know exactly. I've been walking for an hour, lost. "

"You say you got hit with water balloons thrown at you by a bunch of guys? You expect me to believe that?"

"Yes," I say, and I catch his eye, such beautiful eyes really. I hesitate to blunt his will too forcibly, afraid it might damage him. Yet he is strong; he will not be moved without great power. Nevertheless, I cannot let him take me in for questioning. Lowering my voice, I pitch my tone in such a manner that he will feel as if I am speaking between his ears, as if he were in fact thinking what I am saying.

"I have done nothing wrong," I say gently. "Every?thing I tell you is true. I am a young woman, helpless, a stranger here. The best thing you can do is take me to my car. "

He considers what I say for several seconds. I know my voice runs like an echo inside him. Then he shakes himself, seemingly throwing off my implant. I can sense his emotions, although I cannot read his thoughts. His doubt remains strong. He reaches out and shuts his door, the engine is already running.

"Have you been inside the Coliseum tonight?" he asks.

"No. What's inside the Coliseum?"

"Never mind. The police say they found you here, in the parking lot. What were you doing here?"

"Fleeing from the guys who harassed me. "

"How many were there?"

"I'm not sure. Three or four. "

"We have a report from two young men in the area. They say their buddy was attacked by someone who fits your description. Minutes ago we found their buddy's body, lying in a gutter. What do you have to say about that?"

I grimace. "I know nothing about it. How did he die?"

Joel frowns. "Violently. "

I shake my head, looking anxious. "I was just trying to get back to my car. Can't you take me there? It's been a long night for me. "

"Where are you from?"

"Oregon. I don't know L. A. I took a wrong exit and then my car stalled. But with your help, I might be able to find it. " I reach over and touch his arm, holding his eyes once more, but softly, without fire. "Please?" I say.

He nods finally and puts the car in gear. "Which exit did you get off?"

"I forget the name. It's up here. I can show you, and maybe we can retrace my steps. " I point as we pull out of the parking lot and head north in the direction of the freeway. "Honestly, I've never hurt anyone in my life. "

He chuckles bitterly. "I don't imagine you had anything to do with what happened tonight. "

"I've heard L. A. 's a violent town. "

He nods grimly. "Especially lately. I suppose you've read the papers?"

"Yes. Are you in charge of the murder investiga?tion?"

"Several of us are overseeing it. "

"Have you any leads?"

"No. But that's off the record. "

I smile. "I'm not a reporter, Agent Drake. "

He smiles faintly. "You shouldn't get within twenty miles of this area at night. How long are you going to be in L. A. ?"

"Why?"

"We might need to ask you more questions later. "

"I'll be around. I can give you a number once we find my car. "

'That's fine. Did you get off the Harbor Freeway or the Santa Monica?"

"I was on the Santa Monica Freeway. Let's continue north a few blocks. I think I'll recognize the right street"

"How old are you Alisa?"

"Twenty-two. "

"What's your business in L. A. ?"

"I'm visiting friends. I'm thinking of going to school here next year. "

"Oh. Where?"

"USC. "

"The Coliseum is right next to USC. "

"That's the reason I was driving around here. One of my friends lives on campus. " I shiver again. "But with all this violence I'm seriously reconsidering my choice of universities. "

"That's understandable. " He glances over, check?ing out my body this time. He does not wear a wedding ring. "So you're a student. What are you majoring in?"

"History," I say.

We drive without talking for a few minutes, me merely pointing where I think we should turn next. Actually, I do not want to take him to my car because even though he is responding to my suggestions, he still has a will of his own. And he is obviously highly trained. He would memorize my license plate number if I brought him to my rental. A block from where I have parked, passing a red Honda, I signal for him to stop.

"This is it," I say, opening the car door. "Thank you so much. "

"Do you think it will start now?" he asks. "Why don't you pull in front of me and wait to see if I can get it started. " I add, a sexy note in my voice, "Could you do that for me?"

"No problem. Alisa, do you have any ID on you?" I grin foolishly. "I knew you were going to ask that. I'm afraid I'm driving without my license. But I can give you a number where I'll be tomorrow. It's 310-555-4141. This is a genuine L. A. number that will ring through to my house in Oregon. You can call me there any time for the next three days. Do you want me to write the number down for you?"

He hesitates, but I know he is thinking that with my license plate number he can always trace me. "That's not necessary, it's an easy number to remember. " He pauses again, studying the damp marks on my shirt. There is no way he can tell they're bloodstains just by looking at them, but I have to wonder if he can smell the odor, even after my heavy washing. Despite my subtle influence, he would never let me go if he definitely saw blood. And I am not free yet. "Can you give me an address as well?" he asks.

"Joel," I say in my special way. "You don't really think I killed anyone, do you?" He backs away slightly. "No. " "Then why do you want all these things from me?" He hesitates, shrugs. "If you have an address, I will take it. Otherwise your phone number is enough for me for now. " He adds, "We'll probably talk tomor?row. "

"Good enough. It was nice meeting you. " I step out of his car. "Now I just hope the damn thing starts. "

Joel pulls in front of me and waits, as I suggested. It was not a suggestion I made willingly, but felt I needed to allay his suspicions. The Honda door is locked, but I open it with a hard yank and slip behind the wheel. With two fingers I break the ignition switch, noting how Joel studies my license plate number in his rearview mirror. He writes it down as I press the contact wires together and the engine turns over. I wave as I quickly pull away from the curb. I don't want the people in the adjacent house to hear me leaving with their car. After driving around the block, I get into my own car, and in less than an hour I am in the air, flying in my personal Learjet toward Oregon. Yet I know I will return to Los Angeles soon to finish the war with the powerful vampire. For good or evil.
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