I am driven from my bed by hunger. I stretch, clean my paws and head for the warehouses. This time I avoid the inns – much as I enjoy the respect these simple colonials give me, I do not want them spoiling my hunt again.
I cannot avoid the dogs, however. They are everywhere, great hulking creatures tied to the fronts of houses or confined in the yards. They bark as I pass, and I sneer at them, and whisper the worst insults I can think of.
‘Your sire was a lapdog! Your dam had no nose!’
This drives them to a frenzy, and by the time I reach the jetty, the whole town is shaking with their howls. I snigger, and go about my business.
The jetty is seemingly deserted, except for a single human soldier. He does not see me, of course. I, Harry-le-beau, am too clever for a simple soldier. Too quick. Too brilliant!
Besides, he is asleep.
I flow past him like darkness itself, right to the end of the jetty.
The furthest warehouse is slightly separate from the others. I scout around the outside searching for a way in, and find a cellar trapdoor that has been left ajar. I slip through it, into total darkness.
A lesser cat than myself might be daunted by the sounds and smells inside that cellar. But I, Harry-le-beau, have hunted two-headed rats through the sewers of Paris. I have fought the giant worm of Edinburgh. In Warsaw, I have vanquished the dreaded basilisk. And in London, I—
No. I do not wish to think about London.
Suffice it to say that the squeaks in that cellar are not the innocent cries of normal mice, who can be killed with one swift paw. Oh no. These squeaks are the stuff of nightmares, for humans and cats alike. They echo with blood and cunning. They fizz with a hatred of everything that lives.
Perhaps the guard was not asleep after all. Perhaps he was dead.
I slink across the stone floor, my tail lashing.
For all their craftiness, they do not hear me. The thrill of the hunt hums in my veins. My ears are pricked, my teeth chatter silently. They are there, behind that barrel.
I brace my haunches, waggle my elegant bottom – and spring!
They are quick, but I, Harry-le-beau, am quicker. I pin one of them under my paw, swat another out of the air as it flies past, and catch a third in my teeth.
The rest of them escape, for now.
Vampire mice are not good eating. Their nasty wings crackle and bits of rotting skin fall on my paws.
‘Even the Warsaw basilisk was better than this,’ I murmur, when I have finished the first two and started on the third.
The creature I am devouring raises its vile head and whispers, ‘My kin will destroy you, cat.’
‘You are being eaten. Have the decency to be silent,’ I reply.
But it will not shut up, not even when I have finished with its legs and wings, and started on its bony little chest. ‘There are thousands of us,’ it whispers. ‘You cannot kill us all.’
‘You think not?’ I say, though it is hard to boast with my mouth full. ‘I am Harry-le-beau, the scourge of vampire mice from Vienna to Rome!’
‘At your service.’
It does not laugh. Vampire mice have no sense of humour. Instead, it whispers, ‘I have heard of you.’
The mouse interrupts me. ‘Forget Paris, Harry-le-beau. Remember Lund—’
At which point my jaws close over its head, and it is silent at last.