Look: it wasn't as though Mitchell had never been in a life-threatening situation before. Take the Somme. Fifteen weeks in the trenches amongst the rats and wet wool wasn't enough to justify all the German draft he might ever fancy. Take Brixton, '81, where his flat burned quicker than a petrol pie in Hades, and he was left with singed lungs and skin tinged with the scent of smoke. (Pity of it is, he couldn't save his Zombies LPs.)
Take twenty bloody minutes ago, queued at the bank while some miserable sod pushed four thousand p. over the counter, one flipping coin at a time. No sooner did he make it out than he was standing stock-still on the pavement, staring down the great hairy muzzle of a werewolf.
Oh, it was just like in the pictures. Lon Chaney Jr. in the flesh and hair, larger than life and twice as ferocious, but by God, it was the stench that made a believer out of Mitchell. Must've been rolling about in municipal waste, with a side of cat shit.
Very slowly, Mitchell pulled off his sunglasses and blinked into the winter night. Then he held up an open palm: it couldn't be rocket science took look convincingly entreating. Besides, it was dark out, and easy to pass for respectable.
And then: "You must be a new inductee."
"I think you'd best find yourself a forest to wait out the night. 'S no use for an endangered species to be caught ravaging maidens in the middle of town."
The werewolf, being a werewolf and thus prone to certain animalistic and wholly irrational urges, edged closer, snorting out through its nose and panting in through – well, at least Mitchell was man enough to admit it – rather impressive fangs.
It sniffed at Mitchell's jacket, then at his scarf. Okay, and his hair, which was disgusting.
Mitchell stifled a cough, clamping his mouth shut. The police had arrived, dodging from their cars two, three at a time: someone inside the bank must have tripped the alarm. Funny to think on that. A silent siren. Help which comes without audible call. Almost poetic, it was... a wide, wet tongue working its way up Mitchell's cheek.
That was it.
"Go!" Mitchell screamed.
The werewolf went.
And there was Mitchell, stock-still on the pavement, smiling out at no less than six officers, the wad of freshly-nicked fivers yet in his hand, and the bank manager yelling out in falsetto:
"Yes, that's the one! That's him! I wish to press full charges."
Mitchell shook his head. Amateurs.
Eight-am shifts. There was something about them, something terrible and weird, like a great bank of greenish clouds looming over Hyde Park in June, and oh, Mitchell must have been a very bad sort of bloke in his last life as (he supposed) an Argentinean bricklayer. Or it could have been that he was at once overqualified, highly-educated, and sly, and a vampire. Also: he lacked papers.
And so he swept floors. He pushed trolleys and fetched kidney trays. Sometimes he even folded sheets. It was, just as one might imagine, terrifically stimulating. Fortunately for him, no matter where he was or for whom he slaved, he always managed to find relaxing nightlife.
The days weren't too bad either, once one got past the whole UVB thing.
Mornings, on the other hand: mornings were rubbish for everyone.
Mitchell looked up. "Yes?"
"Oh! It's you! I can't believe it. I mean, I can... I followed you. Afterwards."
Christ. Another eye-witness. If he wasn't careful, he'd end up on page two: Community Rallies Against Sick Youth. The press would say he drew a weapon on the bank manager, had trounced an ailing grandmother-type, had whistled Wham! whilst rifling through handbags and trouser pockets. The actuality had been nothing so elegant.
You know how it goes: CC-TV leaves little to the imagination. And so one slips in, one grabs, one gets out. One sometimes has a smile for the gorgeous brunette behind the bullet-proof glass and wrought iron bars. One may or may not imagine taking her out for a drink later: t'would be stupid to ask for her number, but damned if she doesn't know, and slides it across the glinting marble countertop with a (still gorgeous) brunette hand.
One does not get caught by coppers.
The bloke was still standing there, plain as pudding, and quite as stocky. Wide, earnest eyes, ears which stuck out slightly from his head, anxious heartbeat – clothes chosen by his (ostensibly) blind mother. He was smiling.
Mitchell didn't return the favor. "You're looking for a payoff, yeah? I've ten quid on me now, and another six, maybe seven back in my locker," he said. Then he half-shut his eyes, and concentrated, really gave himself a moment to assess the situation. He took a deep breath... Hint of fabric softener, soap, yesterday's beefburger and chips. But below all that was something older, like worn leather and frost on felled oak limbs, something unmistakable and old.
"You followed me," Mitchell said slowly, and took a step backwards.
"George." He extended one hand to shake, and another to proffer a white paper bag. "I brought Danishes."
"You knew?" said Mitchell, eyeing a bit of apricot jam on George's upper lip.
"Yeah. Kind of like a sixth-sense. I'd never met a vampire, but I could smell it in you."
"It's called L'eau de Scared Shitless, for Men."
"You seemed cool."
George nodded. Then, a little more sombrely, "Is it always like this?"
"It's been eighteen months, and you're the first person I've been able to talk to."
"Have you tried blogging?" asked Mitchell. "The Internet's weirdo-heaven."
"I'm serious, Mitchell. D'you think it's fate? I mean, how often do two..."
"I read a lot," said George, after a pause. "To pass the time."
It was well past midnight. Mitchell lifted the needle from the final groove of Meat is Murder, stretched and downed the dregs of his wine, and proceeded to peruse the library of one William Harold Smythe-Johnson, a former world-traveler and lecturer who had, after one particularly draining evening down the Barrowboy and Bishop, moved on to pursue a full-time career in agriculture. The man had impeccable taste.
And oh, but it would be a shame to let all that culture and comfort go to waste. As Mitchell saw it, he was performing a public service by keeping the place in order. The rent was cheap (here meaning nonexistent), which was fortunate because was low on cash (here meaning he had none).
He pulled down a first English edition of All Quiet on the Western Front and settled into an armchair, dozing occasionally as the war went on around him.
"I can get you a job," said Mitchell, a few weeks later.
George grinned and pulled him into a hug. "You don't know what this means to me."
"Yeah, you're right. Just quit drooling on my lapels. D'you know, I got this jacket in Savile Row."
Mitchell sighed. "Nothing like a good tailor now and again."
The next full moon, Mitchell went round to George's hostel, a steaming parcel in one hand and a bottle of red in the other.
"I brought beef chow mein."
Mitchell cleared his throat. He was a patient guy. He really was. "It's from Lee Ho Fook's."
"Okay," George said around the first beautiful forkful of noodles: Chinese takeaway which sat like the fucking Antarctic until Ernie Shackleton had to take a righteous piss in the pristine snow. Then, catching Mitchell's eye: "'S good. Hey, you staying? I mean, you don't have to, but I think... I think it'd help."
Mitchell grabbed the egg foo young, making sure to get as much of his DNA on it as was humanly possible. Damned if he couldn't think of a reason not make himself comfortable.