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Chapter NINE

When I told Harkat about the match, he reacted with automatic suspicion. "It's a trap," he said. "Your friend is an ally of? Steve Leonard."

"Not Tommy," I said with absolute certainty. "But I've a feeling he might in some way be able to direct us to him, or set us on his trail."

"Do you want me to come with? you to the match?" Harkat asked.

"You wouldn't be able to get in. Besides," I laughed, "there'll be tens of thousands of people there. In a crowd like that, I think I'll be safe!"

The ticket was delivered by courier and I set off in good time for the match. I arrived an hour before kickoff. A huge crowd milled around outside the stadium. People were singing and cheering, decked out in their club colours, buying drinks, hot dogs and burgers from the street vendors. Troops of police kept a close watch on the situation, making sure rival fans didn't clash.

I mingled for a while, strolling around the stadium, relishing the atmosphere. I bought a hot dog, a match programme, and a hat with Tommy's picture on it, sporting the slogan, "He's not unusual!" There were lots of hats and badges dedicated to Tommy. There were even CDs by the singer Tom Jones, with photos of Tommy taped across the covers!

I took my seat twenty minutes before kickoff. I had a greatview of the floodlit pitch. My seat was in the middle of the stadium, just a few rows behind the dugouts. The teams were warming up when I arrived. I got a real buzz out of seeing Tommy in one of the goals, stopping practice shots. To think one of my friends was playing in a cup semi-final! I'd come a long way since childhood and put most of my human interests behind me. But my love of football came flooding back as I sat, gazing down at Tommy, and I felt a ball of pure childish excitement build in the pit of my stomach.

The teams left the pitch to get ready for kickoff, then re-emerged a few minutes later. All the seats in the stadium had been filled and there was a huge cheer as the players marched out. Most people stood up, clapping and hollering. The ref tossed a coin to decide which way the teams would play, then the captains shook hands, the players lined up, the ref blew his whistle, and the match got underway.

It was a brilliant game. Both teams went all-out for the win. Tackles flew in fast and hard. Play shifted from one end to the other, both sides attacking in turn. There were lots of chances to score. Tommy made some great saves, as did the other keeper. A couple of players blasted wide or over the bar from good positions, to a chorus of jeers and groans. After forty-three minutes, the teams seemed like they'd be heading in level at half-time. But then there was a quick break, a defender slipped, a forward had a clear shot at goal, and he sent the ball flying into the left corner of the net, past the outstretched fingers of a flailing Tom Jones.

Tommy and his team-mates looked dejected as they trudged off at half-time, but their fans - and the locals who'd come to cheer for Tommy - kept on singing, "One-nil down, two-one up, that's the way to win the cup!"

I went to get a drink but the size of the queue was frightening - the more experienced fans had slipped out just before the half-time whistle. I walked around to stretch my legs, then returned to my seat.

Although they were a goal down, Tommy's team looked the more confident when they came out after the break. They attacked from the start of the half, knocking their opponents off the ball, pushing them back, driving hard for goal. The game grew heated and three players were booked within the first quarter of an hour. But their new found hunger was rewarded in the sixty-fourth minute when they scored a scrappy goal from a corner to pull level.

The stadium erupted when Tommy's team scored. I was one of the thousands who leapt from their seats and punched the air with joy. I even joined in with the song to the silenced fans of the other team, "You're not singing, you're not singing, you're not singing any more!"

Five minutes later, I was chanting even louder when, from another corner, the team scored again to go two-one up. I found myself hugging the guy next to me - a total stranger! - and jumping up and down with glee. I could hardly believe I was behaving this way. What would the Vampire Generals say if they saw a Prince acting so ridiculously!

The rest of the game was a tense affair. Now that they were a goal down, the other team had to attack in search of an equalizer. Tommy's team-mates were forced further back inside their own half. There were dozens of desperate defensive tackles, lots of free kicks, more yellow cards. But they were holding out. Tommy had to make a few fairly easy saves, but apart from that his goal wasn't troubled. With six minutes to go, the win looked safe.

Then, in virtually an action replay of the first goal, a player slipped free of his defender and found himself in front of goal, with only Tommy to beat. Once again the ball was struck firmly and accurately. It streaked towards the lower left corner of the net. The striker turned away to celebrate.

But he'd reacted too soon. Because this time, somehow, Tommy got down and across, and managed to get a few fingers to the ball. He only barely connected, but it was enough to tip the ball out around the post.

The crowd went wild! They were chanting Tommy's name and singing, "It's not unusual, he's the greatest number one!" Tommy ignored the songs and stayed focused on the corner, directing his defenders. But the save had sapped the other team of their spirit, and though they kept coming forward for the final few minutes, they didn't threaten to score again.

When the whistle blew, Tommy's team wearily embraced each other, then shook their opponents' hands and swapped jerseys. After that they saluted their fans, acknowledging their support. We were all on our feet, applauding, singing victory songs, a lot of them about the incredible Tom Jones.

Tommy was one of the last players to leave the pitch. He'd swapped his jersey with his opposite number and the pair were walking off together, discussing the game. I roared Tommy's name as he came level with the dugouts, but of course he couldn't hear me over the noise of the crowd.

Just as Tommy was about to vanish down the tunnel to the dressing-rooms, a commotion broke out. I heard angry yells, then several sharp bangs. Most of the people around me didn't know what was happening. But I'd heard these sounds before - gunfire!

I couldn't see down the tunnel from where I was, but I saw Tommy and the other goalkeeper stop, confused, then back away from the tunnel entrance. I immediately sensed danger. "Tommy!" I screamed, then knocked aside the people nearest me and forced my way down towards the pitch. Before I got there, a steward reeled out of the tunnel, blood pouring from his face. When the people in front of me saw that, they panicked. Turning, they pushed away from the pitch, halting my advance and forcing me back.

As I struggled to break free, two figures darted out of the tunnel. One was a shaven-headed, shotgun-toting vampet with a disfigured, half-blown-away face. The other was a bearded, purple-skinned, crazy vampaneze with silver and gold hooks instead of hands.

Morgan James and R. V!

I screamed with fresh fear when I saw the murderous pair, and shoved aside everyone around me, drawing upon the full extent of my vampiric powers. But before I could bruise a way through, R.V. homed in on his target. He bounded past the dugouts, ignored the players, coaching staff and stewards on the pitch, and bore down on a startled Tom Jones.

I don't know what flashed through Tommy's mind when he saw the burly, purple monster streaking towards him. Maybe he thought it was a practical joke, or a weird fan coming to hug him. Either way, he didn't react, raise his hands to defend himself, or turn to run. He just stood, staring dumbly at R.V.

When R.V. reached Tommy, he pulled back his right hand - the one with the gold hooks - then jabbed the blades sharply into Tommy's chest. I froze, feeling Tommy's pain from where I was trapped in the crowd. Then R.V. jerked his hooked hand back, shook his head with insane delight, and retreated down the tunnel, following Morgan James, who fired his gun to clear a path.

On the pitch, Tommy stared stupidly down at the red, jagged hole in the left side of his chest. Then, with almost comical effect, he slid gracelessly to the ground, twitched a few times, and lay still - the terrible, unmistakable stillness of the dead.

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