Vampire$ - By John Steakley

Part One Chapter 1
They were all there when Crow and his Team came rolling in for that last job. All the policemen and local officials. The mayor. The school board. It was that kind of small Indiana town.

It was that kind of hot summer day, too. The crowd faded quickly back from the billowing dust raised by the semis on the milk-white gravel driveway, holding hankies to their faces and coughing. Then they stood on the brown grass and watched the procession circle deafeningly around them and pull up in front of the great house.

The engines on all five vehicles stopped at once. Jack Crow stepped from the lead Jeep and stood there, all six-feet-two of muscle and resolve and mean. He stood for a moment, glancing up at the target. When he turned back the local officials stood about him in a semicircle, as if for warmth.

In fact for warmth.

Crow smiled easily at them. He shook hands with the round nervous-faced mayor. He glanced at his watch. It was high noon and 105 degrees.

Time to start killing.

They dynamited the south wing ten minutes later. The charge went off on a second-story balcony and drove the entire section flat to the ground like an angry fist. There was a lot more smoke, a lot more dust. They waited. Soon it was sunny again. The grapples began snagging at the wreckage and dragging it away.

The townsmen watched it all, wincing at the first screech of steel members on the masonry. They watched the machinery lumbering into position. They watched the crew of five appear from the van with their eight-foot-long pikes and stand ready. Mostly, they watched Crow.

They probably didn't jump more than a foot the first time the rubble moved on its own.

"Boss!" called a young blond man named Cat from his lawn chair crow's nest atop one of the semis. "I think we have one." He stood up, shading his eyes against the bright sunlight and pointing. "Right there on the end."

"Okay," replied Crow calmly. "Rock and roll."

The crew moved into position encircling the area as best as the broken shard footing allowed. From their back pockets they took what looked like women's long opera gloves and put them on. The steel mesh fabric glinted brightly. The townsmen, probably without realizing it, stepped closer together.

Then Crow, dragging cable from the broad grapple clenched in his huge right fist, stepped through the circle of his men and stabbed a prong deep into the cornice lodged heavily over the target area. He stepped back and held out his left hand. Somebody handed him a crossbow the size of a swingset and then everybody just stood there for a moment.

It started almost the instant Jack's signal to the crane pulled the cable taut. The masonry had barely tilted to one side when the first fiend came whistling and smoking into the agony of the sun's rays, shrieking like a harpy and stabbing out with black claws and dead gray fangs and then spouting a vile black glob as Crow's first shot drove a bolt the size of a baseball bat through its chest and spine and eight inches into the cornice behind it.

It writhed and howled and burned and cried and dragged with maniacal frenzy at the wooden stake, but the umbrella barbs kept it lodged tight, killing it, killing it, rubbing it away from the world of earth and man and bright summer Indiana afternoons.

"Now that," offered Cat after several seconds of heavy silence, "was weird."

The mayor turned to the elder town councilman and chuckled. The latter responded in kind. Soon all the townsmen were laughing and laughing with the break of the tension and with the relief that maybe after all the horror of the past months and - And nobody else was laughing. Not Cat, peering disgustedly down from his perch above them, none of the other members of the crew, and not Jack Crow, whose look of withering disdain turned them pale to a man.

When they had gotten very quiet for a very long five seconds Jack said, "The leader shouldn't have popped first. He usually sends everyone else ahead."

"How..." began the mayor before his voice cracked. cleared his dry throat and tried again. "How do you know it was the leader?"

Jack lit a cigarette and stared at the ground. "After a while," he replied softly, "you can tell."

He stood there quietly like that for several seconds. Then he looked at them, actually looked at the individual townsmen for