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I considered the low incidence of vampirism in the area to be a fairly good advertisement for my business. Though, at times, it was annoying.

Such as at three o'clock in the afternoon, when I'm trying to sleep. What's a girl to do? I work nights, of course - it comes with the job. Hitwoman come exterminator, that's me. If you want a vampire dead, you come to me. Bulk discount for more than five at one address. Preferably, though, you don't phone me at three in the afternoon.

As I fumbled the telephone next to my ear, Lieutenant Covey's voice reached out to me. The police, bless them, had forsaken the mundane world of traffic control and taken it upon themselves to curb the rising numbers of vampires. Once I had been called out to every vampire incident; now I was only called out to the big ones.

I hated the big jobs. I lay there blinking in the low light that filtered through the curtains, as if that might help make Covey's words clearer. There had been killings - that almost went without saying. But this time there were almost fifty killings in one building - and all vampire attacks.

I struggled to get a handle on the attacks. Small groups of hunting vampires wasn't uncommon, but that many deaths would have required more than a small group. Whatever had happened, a lot of vampires must have stormed the building.

Covey would say no more about it on the phone, so I arranged to meet him at the crime scene - later in the day, when I was officially at work. I hung up the phone and let myself drift back into sleep.

Night came, and I opened the evening with a couple of small jobs - nothing complex, just protecting innocent daughters from the seductions of vampires. It felt silly as a description, but it was probably the most valuable job I did. Teenagers were easily taken in by the vampires, and it would only lead to a swelling of the vampire's numbers. If I could stop that, then so much the better - for the individuals and for the public at large.

By 10pm I was deep in the run-down commercial sector, surrounded by cheap and dubious businesses of all descriptions and types. I passed by a laundrette that looked like it laundered far more than just clothes, and arrived at the crime scene.

The building was little more than a warehouse - a small storage area for the local businesses. Or so it appeared on the outside. As I stepped under the police barriers, I could see police flood lighting had been erected inside and outside the building, illuminating a brilliant white interior. Lieutenant Covey met me as I approached the door.

"Hello Joyce," he said, giving me the slightly strange sidelong glance that the police normally did. It was an uneasy alliance - we both knew I operated on shaky legal ground, but I was too useful to arrest. Hence, the police preferred to act as if I wasn't there.

"Good evening, Lieutenant," I replied, keeping it professional. The police were a good client, but that didn't mean I wanted to be friends.

Covey shrugged, his motionless white face and black hair looking unnatural against the bobbing lines of his grey mac and suit trousers. He was not an interesting man, by any means, but as the police's foremost investigator into vampire related crimes, that didn't make him bad at his work either. He gestured towards the open door with one hand, still in its coat pocket.

"We've got a good one for you tonight. The boys have almost finished up - you've got last dibs on the scene. When you're done, we'll clear up."

I nodded and stepped towards the door. A series of blood splatters and red marks formed a trail a short way into the street - some poor soul had almost got away before they were dragged back inside. I pushed it from my mind and stepped over the threshold.

Inside, the building was a shining white, belying the filthy exterior. The ceiling lights were gone - broken by the attacking vampires. Only the floodlights lit the room. The walls and surfaces had been tiled, and the open warehouse had been filled with counters and worktops. The floor was also tiled, but marked by fresh blood stains. Pale grey bodies lay in random heaps around the room, all sporting the characteristic fang marks at the neck. A few also sported other injuries - not always fatal.

As I picked my way through the room, something crunched under my feet. I looked down. Broken glass covered the floor. The worktops around the edge of the room also bore the remains of glassware - beakers, testtubes and piping. It looked like a disaster in a school chemistry lab. I said as much.

Covey snorted. "Some chemistry lab. This was drugs. We've got the lab looking into it now."

I nodded and turned my attention to the broken glassware. It was all so clean, so neat.

"The beakers - they weren't broken in the fight. There's no blood. They were broken deliberately."

I could hear Covey shuffle behind me. "Yeah. We've currently got it figured as an anti-pollution attempt."

I nodded. It wasn't unheard of for vampires to occasionally go after drug dealers - they hated the way drugs contaminated the blood. Oh, sure - they could still drink it, but the drugs made the blood unpalatable. But even so, there was a heck of a jump from one drug dealer to this. I'd never heard of anything on this scale before.

I finished up at the site then motioned Covey to send in the clean-up crew. There wasn't much more I could do. I told Covey I'd look into it and get back to him. In the meantime I had other contracts to fulfil that evening.

Night ended, and again I found myself trying to sleep as light struggled past the curtains. Thoughts of the evening were running through my head, keeping me focussed when I should have been resting. In the end I hadn't been able to resist, and I'd made some enquiries - but no-one knew anything about a large gang of vampires. At least, nothing they felt safe telling me about. It seemed almost obscene that it could be kept so secret.

The phone rang again, and again I answered it to Lieutenant Covey's voice. He made some faint apology about phoning during my rest period, but if only I lived like normal people... I laughed away his comments, explaining how it was the demands of the job.

I worked during the night and slept during the day. Some people assume you should hunt vampires during the day, when you have sunlight in your favour. I say, why go into a nest of fifty vampires in the day, all of whom have sufficient cover from the sun indoors to be able to kill you, when you could find them at night and pick them off individually? I know which I'd rather choose.

Covey let the comment slide, perhaps fearing he would eventually end up living my life as well. Instead he shared with me some information. They had received some information about heavy vampire activity in an abandoned office building on the other side of town. He wanted me to be there when the police went in to check it out.

As if I wasn't already having trouble sleeping, surprise shook me awake. Most people assume that in my line of work, the hardest part is the killing. That isn't so. The difficulty is always in obtaining information, even with my contacts. After that it's a matter of wooden stakes and timing. So for the police to receive information before me was a shock to say the least.

I arranged a time to meet Covey for the raid, being sure to stipulate we waited till darkness. Lord knows, I didn't want us to encounter the entire gang all at once. Then I hung up and waited, pretending I could sleep while the sunlight taunted me.

Most people assume I don't like vampires, but nothing could be further from the truth. I admire them for their simplicity of thinking. They have none of the prejudices of humans, no sexism or racism. To a vampire, all that mattered was whether you were human or not human.

Compare this to the police officers waiting for me outside the office building, and the vampires begin to look appealing. The only practical clothing for dealing with major vampire activity is something close-fitting - baggy clothing is liable to get you into trouble in a fight. But with this comes wolf whistles and cat calls. I grinned and bore it as best I could. Even Covey couldn't help but look me up and down - though at least he had the decency to look apologetic afterwards.

I put aside my opinions and refocused - there were more important problems this evening. We tooled up and went in - thirty policemen armed with assault rifles and holy water, and one woman armed with a wooden stake. We expected maybe fifteen vampires. Certainly no more than twenty at that time of night. Instead we found thirty of them, all in various states of detachment from reality. Thirty vampires, all drugged up to the eyeballs.

I watched them carefully as we moved through the building. The place was a mess, run down and full of debris, and amid the rubbish vampires lay sprawled or sat up against the wall.Occasionally they would twitch or giggle, slight motions making the policemen jump, but the vacant eyes never once turned to follow us.

I found one of them at the end of the corridor, twisted implausibly by a sudden muscle spasm. The face was mercifully pressed against the floor and hidden, but one arm had the sleeve rolled up and a syringe of red liquid lying on the floor next to it.The needle had made a messy red wound as it was ripped out from under the skin.

I took the glass vial away from the body and squirted a tiny amount of the red liquid onto a finger tip. I licked it quickly. The taste of blood struck me, followed by bitterness. "Terracotta," I announced, and Covey nodded in understanding. "Nothing but Terracotta junkies."

It was somehow fitting that when the police had failed to keep the vampires in check, the criminal element had succeeded. Terracotta was the result of the illegal drug trade expanding into new markets - an addictive, synthetic designer drug combining a haemoglobin compound with an anti-coagulent. It did nothing for humans, but for vampires it was reported to be better than pure blood. In moderate quantities it induced short-term catatonia and euphoria; in larger quantities it induced death. The poor sod that I took the syringe from had injected so much, he hadn't had time to remove the needle.

We looked around a bit more, but there was nothing to see. They weren't our vampires - too far gone to do anything. Too far into their addiction to care. I staked them for good measure all the same. It was the most eerie moment, silently moving between the bodies and killing each one in turn, under the unseeing gaze of the Terracotta induced ecstasy. Try that in a crowd of aware vampires, and see how long you last.

On the way I rescued a couple of unfinished Terracotta syringes from one particularly vacant vampire. The vampire's locked hands still clutched the syringes until I prised the fingers apart and hid the red vials out of Covey's view. You never knew when they might come in useful.

We ended the exercise silently, the police going about their business in clean up, and me heading back to my car. None of us were happy about wasting our time on a false lead. Covey just ignored me, blaming me, I suspect, for not providing him with more accurate information.

I walked round the corner, past broken streetlights to the car, and stopped while I fumbled my keys to the lock. There was a click from behind me and I turned round to see a man step out of the shadows. "Good evening, Miss Hughes," he said, smiling as he did so. I couldn't help but notice the brief flash of fang.

I watched him for a moment, settling my grip on the wooden stake that had protected me so many times before. He was typical for his species - tall, with dark hair and dark eyes. Handsome looking. And apparently more familiar with me than I was with him.

He walked in a half circle about me, then in a sudden blur of speed he took my car keys from me and dropped them to the ground. He was fast, even for a vampire. He backed away equally quickly, then paced again, slowly and gracefully.

"Please don't feel inclined to leave, Miss Hughes," he said, "We have some business to discuss first."

I swallowed, doubting whether I would be fast enough to push the stake through his heart before he got me. "You seem to have me at a disadvantage," I said, surprised at how weak my voice suddenly sounded.

He laughed. "You may call me 'Jacques'," he said conspiratorially, "but after that you know most of what you need to."

I shrugged. "I seem to be missing something quite fundamental."

He laughed again. "What have you been doing tonight? What did you see inside?"

I knew any answer was superfluous, so I gave none.

"Vampires, Miss Hughes. Was that what you saw?" He stopped pacing. "No. You saw junkies - tired, pathetic junkies. Just look at their eyes. Do you think they are aware of the world around them like I am?"

I had to concede they weren't aware of anything much.

Jacques continued, "Junkies, Miss Hughes, addicted to Terracotta. And they're a growing breed. What good are they for anything? That's not what being a vampire should mean." He spat the words out. "They're useless scum, and unless some action is taken, more and more vampires will fall prey to the travesty of Terracotta."

He paused, waiting for a response. I just watched him, balancing the stake. Waiting.

Seeing there was no answer forthcoming, he scowled and continued. "We have a task force. A group of concerned vampires, worried about the future of our species. We're going to see an end to Terracotta. You've seen their effectiveness already - we were watching as you went on your tour yesterday."

I shrugged. I could feel the chill of the night air, and wondered where this conversation was going. "So you killed some drug dealers. Big deal."

"More than that - Terracotta dealers. In that warehouse they manufactured and packaged Terracotta. No more." Jacques started pacing again, smiling.

"Where do I fit into this?"

"There are two things we need from you, Miss Hughes. The first is that we need your considerable talent for finding and eliminating inconvenient individuals. We can deal with the large facilities, but your skill would be useful where more... subtlety was required." He smiled again.

"And the second thing?"

The smile faded. "Why, the second thing is a request that you cease to apply your skills to members of the task force."

I blinked. The very idea that a vampire was trying to use my services seemed totally outside of my world. "No way."

"There are two ways you can do this, Miss Hughes. I'm trying to give you the option that lets you keep your existing life."

I raised the stake and readied myself. "No. Not for you. I'll never work for a vampire."

"Then," said Jacques, all hushed tones and menace, I guess you'll have to join us."

He charged me then, a blur of sudden movement. I started to swing the stake but my arm seemed slow by comparison. He grabbed my arm and held it away, pushing me back against the car. "Not enough, Miss Hughes," he whispered, then he leaned in with fangs and teeth bared, and pressed them against my neck.

I felt the skin being pierced and the momentary flow of blood, then Jacques backed off as if he had been bitten. A thin trickle of my blood ran from his mouth.

"But... But... You're one of us," he exclaimed.

"Damn right," I said, and in one swift movement I pushed the stake down, round and into his heart.

The night ended, and again I found myself lying in bed, hidden away from the world and the sunlight by the shield of my curtains. I thought of Jacques, of his surprise - that one of his own kind should move against him. I felt momentarily disloyal, but it soon switched to anger.

I didn't hate vampires, not really. I didn't hate who they were. I didn't hate that they - we - drank blood. It was a biological function as far as I was concerned. The only way to survive.

What I hated was my life. I hated hiding from the sun. I hated having my teeth filed down so I could fit in with humans. I hated that everything I had as a human, all my humanity, had been taken from me and replaced by a hollow, painful substitute existence.

It was what I lived for. Not the kill - but the stop of the spread. No-one else should have it all taken away from them. No-one else should have to lead the fake life that I did. No-one else should be made into a vampire.

I watched the curtains, knowing it would be several hours before the light faded again and I could go outside. Several painful hours, dwelling on the night. The curtains were blood-red, of course. Everything was always blood-red.

I reached out my hand and grasped a single syringe of Terracotta - part of the night's spoils. You never knew when a vial of Terracotta might come in useful.

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