Blissfully unaware of her grandchild’s ordeal at school, Granny goes about her business as usual. One gloomy afternoon, she decides to go through the elixirs and spell books in Missy’s basement while her sister is away on a ghost hunting mission. She’s carrying some interesting papers upstairs to read when the phone rings.
She hurries to pick up, answering a little out of breath, ‘Yes? Yes, it is she speaking. Who am I talking to, please?’
‘Mr. Stanescu? Private Detective Iorghu Stanescu?’
She had almost forgotten about her brief encounter with the private detective more than a year ago, having given up all hope of hearing from him again. What could he possibly want?
‘… so I’d like to meet somewhere and talk about your “problem”…’ he finishes the sentence, putting the weight on the last word, making it sound very special and secret. Granny listens carefully to what he says, feeling like a spy in a movie.
‘Yes… 7 p.m. at the “Lonely Literary Café”… Good… Yes, I’ll see you there. Goodbye.’
She hangs up a little flustered. Maybe she should bring her documents. But where had she stored them away? OMG. They are finally taking action!
At a quarter to seven, Iorghu Stanescu enters the café, his cell glued to his ear.
‘Yeah… She’s meeting me here…’ He nods to the barista who is busy with an uncertain client. ‘Excuse me, just a cup of tea, please. No, make that a pot…’ He raises a finger in the air, silencing the young woman. ‘Uh-huh… Wait a second, Jan.’ He returns his attention to the waiting barista. ‘Black tea, any brand. Yes, thank you.’
Still talking in a low voice into his cell, he walks over to a table for four, leaving the barista with the hesitating client.
Granny sees the tall dark man immediately, but doesn’t recognize him at first. She stops on the threshold, scanning the small café, taking in the cozy interior with the odd chairs and different wooden tables. The café is not very busy at this hour of the day. A young woman is sleeping in an armchair, her half full wineglass balancing next to an upturned book on the table next to her and an extremely pale woman is silently reading at a corner table, her book is half shading her face, but Granny recognizes the kind woman at the grocer’s. She notices the gloves and frowns. But where is the detective? Is she too early? She checks her watch and notices the dark man in the business suit discreetly wave her over to his table.
‘Mrs. Grey.’ He stands up and shakes her hand. ‘Please have a seat.’
Granny takes the proffered hand and sits on his left. ‘Mr. Stanescu? I didn’t recognize you.’ She looks pointedly at his thick black hair and well-kept moustache.
He chuckles. ‘Is it that good? I have been on a mission calling for me to follow a business man from Bucharest and-’ He’s interrupted by the barista showing up with a cup for Granny and a new pot of steaming tea, taking the empty one with her. ‘Anyway… Some tea?’
‘Yes, please, Mr. Stanescu.’
‘Call me Iorghu.’
Granny nods, sipping the hot tea.
‘Now, you must wonder why it has taken me so long to contact you?’
Granny nods again.
‘Well. I have been doing some research overseas, in Bridgeport.’ He waits for her reaction.
‘Why Bridgeport?’ she asks.
‘Supernatural beings, my dear. Bloodsuckers.’
Granny looks suitably chocked and he lowers his voice, leaning slightly towards her.
‘I think I have found the answer to the mystery. Vampires. Bridgeport was threatened to be overrun by them, but they were stopped just like we will stop them from overrunning Vulturu.’
‘Are you sure we are talking about vampires here? I’m… I’m not sure they exist. I mean, I’m sure they don’t exist. Don’t. Err…’
For a fleeting moment she recalls a devilishly handsome face but she immediately banishes it from her mind. She has met one, and only one, vampire in her life, and she doesn’t want to be reminded of his existence ever again.
‘You will understand if you hear me out. So, someone I know arranged a meeting with the leader of a supernatural hunter. Or rather a hunter of supernatural beings. His name was Grimm.’
‘Like the fairy tale authors?’
‘Err… No, more like the TV series.’
Decidedly, they don’t have the same cultural references. But she holds her tongue, waiting for him to explain what he has discovered since they last met.
‘Grimm taught me how to identify a vampire. There are tests and tell-tale signs if you know what to look for.’
‘Uh-huh. What signs?’
‘You must have heard of Vlad Țepeș or Vlad Dracul? Vlad the Impaler? The most famous vampire of them all, living right here in Transylvania.’
‘Vaguely,’ Granny says, on her guard, ‘I must say I’m more familiar with Bram Stokes version.’
‘Count Dracula?’ Iorghu laughs. ‘Oh, he didn’t know how close he was to the truth when he wrote his book.’
Iorghu throws himself into a resume of Vlad III’s prowess in the campaign against the Ottomans and Granny listens to him drone on for a while about the infamous vampire.
‘So you mean vampire stories are true? Not just folklore to scare children?’ she says, trying to look doubtful.
‘Exactly. I have not only seen one with my own eyes… I also killed it.’ He looks at her out of the corner of his eye to see how she reacts.
Granny stares. ‘You have killed a… vampire?’
Iorghu nods proudly, glancing around the room to make sure no one is listening. But the only other customers are a table with pale people having coffee and doughnuts, talking loudly about a fishing trip, and a young woman sleeping in an armchair a few feet behind Granny.
Satisfied, Iorghu continues in a low voice, ‘They are very charismatic and beautiful.’
‘Yes, they are,’ she says dreamily.
‘Oh, have you seen one? If you’ve had any experience concerning vampires, you’d better share it with me.’ His face depicts his disappointment.
‘Oh, no. Of course not. But tell me, how did you kill one?’
Iorghu, looks conspiratorially at her, his confidence restored.
‘You mustn’t forget that they are apex predators. Highest on the food chain. That’s one of the signs – other predators get aggressive around them and prey animals will try to flee or hide.’
Granny nods. But she can’t recall ever having wanted to run and hide from Magnus. On the contrary, he drew people, especially women, in like a light does with butterflies.
She glances towards the table with three sickly pale men.
‘I know one of them, he is the headmaster of the local school. I could swear he is not a vampire.’
‘How can you be so sure? Vampires look like everyone else-’
‘-but pale, right?’
‘Yes. Very pale. But there are telltale signs. Most vampires are men. Very handsome and desirable men.’
Granny looks from Mr. Synapse and back to Iorghu. ‘That rules the headmaster out. Definitely.’
Iorghu looks discreetly at the table a little further away. ‘Well. I am sure there are exceptions.’
You bet there are, Granny thinks to herself. He does not have her convinced about his theory. She begins to regret having hired him.
‘And they have long canines.’
The men at the table laughs out loud at something and both Granny and Iorghu gets a good look at their teeth. No bizarre long canines.
‘Anyway. I will have to study the population here more intensely. Going clubbing – vampires are very extravagant and debauched.’
She nods her consent. For once she agrees fully with him. There is just one thing wrong with his approach, though. There are no nightclubs in Vulturu.
Ihrin Ojacarcu, who works at the grocery store, has finished her cup of coffee and stands up. She picks up the thick science fiction book she has been reading and heads towards the exit, stopping to exchange a few words with Mister Synapse.
‘Don’t look, but there is yet another one heading in our direction.’
‘Are we in danger?’ Granny gasps, finding it fun to play the cliché of the old, worried lady.
‘No. I’m armed.’ He pats his chest where Granny now can see a slight bulge, probably from a chest holster.
She stares at him, incredulous. A gun wouldn’t be of any use if these people really were vampires. The cocky private detective would not even have the time to think the action before they would have ripped his veins open.
‘Is something wrong? You don’t need to worry.’
She massages her temples, realizing she must have stared at him in a not very flattening manner.
‘It is all very… overwhelming.’
‘Damn right it is. So, what do you think? Are you with us?’ he insists.
‘Yes… Bună ziua.’ She nods a greeting to Ihrin Ojacarcu, then turns back towards Iorghu with a serious expression. ‘Yes, I’m in.’
He picks up his briefcase and tells her he’ll be in touch. Then he leaves Granny with the check. She realizes he still hasn’t told her how he killed a vampire in Bridgeport.
They meet at Missy’s a Saturday night. Iorghu Stanescu, the detective, Petre Belododia, the journalist, old Apostol Alexandrescu, the apothecary, and Claudiu Iliescu, the town’s doctor, are all present. Only the tall blond man Granny had seen when she first met the detective*, and Jan Dimir, are missing. Jan Dimir because his wife is giving a dinner party and the tall man because he is working in Bucarest as a bouncer on the weekends. Granny couldn’t very well refuse when Missy insisted on listening in. It is her house, after all. She is happy to play hostess, offering some refreshments and leading the party into the dining room, where the table is soon littered by documents brought by the participants.
Tramp finds a new best friend. He stays by Claudiu Iliescu the whole evening, begging for attention. Claudiu just laughs when Granny tries to pull the dog away, telling her he doesn’t mind. He has two dogs at home, and Tramp could probably smell them on his clothes.
Iorghu Stanescu is back to his usual, clean-shaven appearance. His bald head gleams in the lamplight as he piles up his documents and leads the animated discussion. He tells them about his recent journey to America and what he had learned there.
‘There are also some strange pale people associated with Bridgeport’s night life…’
He can be quite convincing, and Granny can see how the audience leans towards his vampire theory.
It seems they all have something to add. Granny listens and when it is her turn to speak, she tells them about her theory – a kind of virus. They don’t seem convinced so she feels she has to say something about why they can’t be vampires. She holds back the fact that she has met one or two. Instead, she says that she has done some research at the library and after what she has learned, she can’t believe the pale people are vampires.
‘Vampires seem to be bloodthirsty fellows who would not have been able to teach whole classes of prime food.’
‘Yes, children without defense. There are no reports of strange accidents at school, nor of missing children.’
She has a point, and the discussions starts again, with counterpoints and agreements.
Missy has been listening to the heated discussion with interest. She tries to catch Granny’s eye, wondering why her sister doesn’t mention Magnus Darkling, the vampire they both had known in Paris in the 70s and who does not correspond to any of the clichés the detective has enumerated.
‘Can I… Would you please…’ She tries to get a word in, but no one is paying attention to her. She clears her throat, annoyed. ‘HEY! LISTEN TO ME!’
Startled at Missy’s outburst, everybody looks at the old lady, including Granny who shakes her head, fearing that her sister will talk about the handsome vampire. But Missy just smiles apologetically.
‘Ahem… who would like some coffee? Tea? Me?’
Nobody gets the pun. As no one is laughing, she continues quickly, ‘Why don’t you just capture one of them and make him talk?’
‘What!?!’ Granny has never even thought of it.
‘I think she’s right!’ Iorghu Stanescu says. ‘We could stalk out the park. We know they come there late at night.’
‘But not every night.’
Everybody starts talking at once, excited about the idea of taking some action.
‘We have noticed an increase in activity during the full moon.’
‘We mustn’t go alone, there have to be at least two of us.’
‘Yes, they look quite strong-’
‘-if they really are vampires, they have superhuman strength-’
‘-and they might put up a fight.’
‘But it’s kidnapping!’ Claudiu Iliescu protest.
‘I believe it’s more of coercion than kidnapping,’ Petre Belododia says.
‘It’s still against the law.’
‘Sometimes you have to break the law to publish the truth.’
‘Yes, and the means justify the ways!’ Missy chirps in.
‘The end justifies the means,’ Granny corrects.
Everyone turns around to look at the old apothecary.
‘Criminal methods can never be justified. But…’ he raises his hand to stop any objections. ‘But, our motive is noble. And our methods aren’t evil.’
Granny wants them to go the bottom of this strange affair once and for all. She speaks up before the discussion starts again.
‘I believe we could do it!’
‘What if they press charges?’ Petre Belododia intervenes. ‘The story has to be published for the public to know, but I can lose my job if we’re making the wrong decision here.’
‘If we discover something criminal, and the person we intercept is involved, they’d want the police to stay out of it.’ Iorghu Stanescu leans back in his chair, looking satisfied.
‘But what if Iorghu is right? What do we have against vampires? We can’t exactly throw garlic and holy water on them and hope for the best,’ Missy says.
‘I think we should use guns. Big guns with wooden bullets.’ Apostol Alexandrescu staples his hands and leans against the table, an excited glint in his eyes. His comment make the good doctor shy away and search the other participants with his eyes for support.
‘I personally favor arrows,’ Petre Belododia says to the doctor’s dismay. ‘I have done some leisure archery, and it is a noble weapon.’
‘I prefer guns!’ Missy chirps in. ‘Big guns! And then we’ll knock them out and torture them until they-’
‘Missy!’ Granny interrupts her sister. ‘You will NOT participate. N-O-T. Especially if there are weapons and killing involved.’
Missy pouts, then she completely ignores her elder sister, throwing herself into the heated discussion.
Granny follows the exchange of words, her head turning as if watching a tennis match.
‘It’s stupid to go out there unarmed.’
‘Guns are against the law.’
‘That’s why I suggested a bow and arrows.’
‘I’m sure it’s against the law, too.’
‘Who has ever heard of unarmed kidnappers?’
‘There must be another way.’
‘Really. So you mean you’ll just walk up to one of them and ask them if they wouldn’t mind being abducted and tortured?’
‘Who said we’ll torture them?’
‘Oh. I forgot. After politely kidnap them, we’ll politely ask them to give up all their secrets which, of course, they will!’
‘Stop! Stop! STOP!’ Granny tries to calm the assembly. ‘Let’s listen to what Mr. Stanescu – Iorghu – has to say.’ She looks across the table at the detective. ‘Do you think it’s possible?’
‘Yes, I think we could pull it off…’ The detective quickly outlines a new plan.
‘Let’s vote. Who is against the plan?’
Claudiu Iliescu is the only one raising his hand, but he quickly puts it down again when he sees the look on the others’ faces.
‘So, I think it’s settled then. Any questions?’
‘When? When are we doing it?’
‘We have to wait for a full moon.’
‘Because they seem to gather in the park when the moon is full. Haven’t you listened?’
Granny raises her hand. ‘I think we should try as soon as possible – before Easter,’ she says, thinking about her granddaughter. She doesn’t want to have Taïga around if something bad happens.
‘So…’ Iorghu Stanescu looks around the table. ‘It sounds good to me. I’ll contact Jan and Ferka as soon as possible. It will take some time to put together an operation like this, but it could be done in time for the next full moon. When is it?’
‘Next Thursday,’ Missy chirps.
‘All right. So next Thursday it is.’
The following Thursday Iorghu Stanescu and Apostol Alexandrescu picks up the other members in a utility vehicle rented by the old apothecary.
Petre Belododia is last. The black, clumsy vehicle stops outside his house and Jan Dimir gets out, followed by Claudiu Iliescu. They walk up the stairs but don’t have the time to ring the bell before the door opens wide and the journalist steps outside wearing black leather pants and a flimsy, short sleeved T-shirt. Theatrically he wraps a light blue scarf around his neck.
Jan looks at Claudiu who irritated throws up his hands.
‘You can’t be serious? We said camouflage! And what’s that? A silk scarf? You’re more dressed up for a social event than for hunting down dangerous vampires.’
The journalist pulls self-consciously at the light blue silk scarf nonchalantly thrown around his neck.
‘And what’s wrong with my scarf?’
Claudiu Iliescu snickers, throwing a glance at Jan Dimir for approval. ‘Nothing – if you’re going to a “soirée”…’
‘C’mon guys. We’re already late.’ Ferka Mitu’s bouncer buddy gesticulates from the sidewalk. He opens the sliding door of the van and climbs inside.
Iorghu Stanescu rolls down the tinted passenger side window and makes an impatient gesture with his gloved hand. ‘OK. Stop arguing. You must have something more fitting than a T-shirt, Petre, or you’ll stay here.’
The extravagant journalist hesitates for a brief second, opening and closing his mouth. Then he vanishes inside only to come back again wearing a loosely fitted designer sweater with a matching beanie.
‘I hope this is glum enough for you all,’ he points out, squeezing into the van.
The detective taps the outside of the door with his hand. ‘Let’s move.’
Apostol Alexandrescu drives the inconspicuous van through the dark streets of Vulturu, heading for the outskirts where Missy’s house is situated. The seven men are silent. They check the weapons distributed by Iorghu, wondering if wooden bullets will be enough to stop an army of bloodsuckers. Iorghu is thoughtful, too. He has faith in the weaponry but he wonders if the men are strong enough to stand up to whatever they will find tonight. And if bringing the old lady is prudent. He’ll leave her by the van, ready to move out if needed.
Apostol Alexandrescu eases the van to a halt and Iorghu jumps out, taking the stairs two at a time.
‘Please, come in. I’ll just take my cap and I’ll be right with you.’ Granny smiles nervously, pulling a khaki green military cap over her bun, making sure her camouflage is right.
The detective is holding the door for her to precede him out when Missy comes running downstairs.
‘WAIT! You weren’t leaving without me, were you!?!’
Iorghu is embarrassed at the sight of Missy in her robe, searching Granny’s eyes for help. Granny heaves a sigh. Her sister will surely throw a real hissy fit if she tells her to stay at home. To the detective’s surprise she shoos her sister towards the stairs, telling her to get upstairs and change.
While Missy quickly gets into her ghostbuster gear, the men have taken advantage of the unexpected pause to have a smoke.
‘Is this good enough?’ Missy asks nervously, shuffling down the short alley towards the van in her sister’s wake.
‘Very. You don’t have time to change the heels, we’re in a hurry.’ Granny locks the door and tries the handle. Twice.
‘It is locked. You said we should hurry.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I saw you turn the key.’
They can hear the men argue with low voices. It is Claudiu Iliescu and Ferka Mitu who are criticizing Petre Belododia’s camouflage war paint.
‘So what?’ Petre hisses. ‘Who said it has to be ugly? This is stylish camouflage! French soldiers always-’
He is interrupted by the arrival of the two old ladies. ‘Buna seara, ladies.’
Iorghu stamps out the butt of his cigarette with his heel. ‘Get in the van everybody. We’re moving out.’
When they arrive at Parcul lui Vlad, everything is quiet. The little parking area is deserted and with crunching wheels, Apostol Alexandrescu eases their ride to a halt. They troop out in silence, conscious about the dangers laying ahead. The men holster their guns, hiding them under their jackets or in their pockets. Only the detective and his right hand have enormous rifles slung over their backs.
Iorghu Stanescu directs them to their assigned posts close to the only pathway into the park. They have discussed the most judicious hiding places, agreeing that the pale persons probably would, as usual, come through the main entrance.
Missy is quickly bored. She would have thought a stake out would be more exciting than this. Luckily she has brought Taïga’s iPad so she can check the numerous dating services she’s listed in… She leans against the Venus statue she is hiding behind and switches on the device.
Granny is hunching behind the bushes, trying to stay low. The long wait begins but after only a little while she stifles a yawn and slides down to a sitting position on the ground. No need to kill her back standing all bent over, she’ll get up fast enough if needed. When needed, she corrects herself. Better stay positive about someone showing up…
‘Why aren’t we armed?’ Missy hisses suddenly, her voice coming from across the path.
‘Because we’re only here as, err… observers,’ Granny hisses back. ‘They’ll neutralize them and we’ll just join in the questioning. We won’t need any guns.’
Missy is silent a little while. Then she whispers again, ‘But what if?’
Granny prefers ignoring the question, having serious doubts about the men being able to come to terms with one or more vampires.
Time goes by slowly. At least her sister is now silent but the long, boring wait makes Granny sleepy. She fights the urge to close her eyes, yawning more and more frequently.
The sound of a distant vehicle approaching makes her alert and she scrambles to her feet, but the car drives by without stopping. Her heart beating fast, she slumps down to a sitting position again. She has mixed feelings about the car not stopping. Disappointment and relief that it wasn’t what or who they were waiting for. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea being here after all. Maybe she should just take her sister and go home…
A passing car slows down and stops.
From his vantage point Ferka Mitu observes a pale man with a shock of unruly dreadlocks pay the cab. His lips are numb from having clamped down his mouth trying to avoid yawning so his imitation of an owl comes out a little stuttering. They all recognize it, though. It’s the signal meaning they are on.
Missy snaps to attention, and turning off the iPad she withdraws further into the shadows. She rubs her hands, finally some action.
The pale man follows the path to a bench where he sits down, checking his watch.
Iorghu Stanescu’s team suddenly jumps out of the bushes and surrounds him, shouting and brandishing their weapons like in a cop movie. The poor man screams, too, and scrambles backwards on the bench but is stopped by Ferka Mitu’s SIG-Sauer pointing to his head. He slumps down, his hands over his ears, too afraid to move.
Menacing the man, Stanescu soon gets the information he wants – the pale stranger’s name is Costea Jonker and he’s there to meet someone called Ichabod Spectescu.
‘You just stay put and act as if nothing happened, and we won’t hurt you. Is that clear?’
Costea Jonker just nods and the men return to their positions.
They hardly have the time to hide again before a rusty car swings in to the small parking lot. It rustles to a stop and a tall, well-dressed man wearing glasses steps out. He straightens his jacket and brushes off some invisible scruff from his shoulders before he purposefully pushes the gate and enters the park. But Ichabod Spectescu doesn’t keep to the path leading straight to where his friend is waiting for him and where the whole team is prepared to ambush him. Instead he takes a parallel walkway, passing Missy and Granny so close they could almost touch him.
‘Ichabod! It’s a trap!’ Costea Jonker shouts before being hit on his head by Ferka Misu’s heavy gun.
The effect of surprise is gone. Ichabod Spectescu sets off in a sprint away from his friend, right towards the high wall and the unsupervised archway leading further into the park. Iorghu Stanescu signs for Jan Dimir to follow him and they quickly leave their posts to take up position on each side of the archway, waiting for the running man to pass them. But Ichabod Spectescu has caught sight of the movement. At the last moment he turns on his heels and runs back from where he came from.
There is nobody posted there, except Missy and Granny, as it was the least probable way for anyone to arrive. Wide-eyed, Granny watches him brush past her once again, closely followed by the detective and the doctor. Missy only hesitates for a brief second. She jumps out onto the path and sweeps her leg out, just enough to make the man trip. With flailing arms he’s sent sprawling onto the ground.
Iorghu Stanescu turns the man around onto his back and holds him up with a firm grip on his shirt. He says something in Romanian and deals the man a hard blow on the nose with his fist, sending the head snapping backwards with a sickening crack.
Granny covers her face. ‘Oh my God. Did he break his nose? Please, stop it!’
‘Don’t be such a sissy,’ Missy says. ‘He doesn’t even bleed.’
Granny peeks between her fingers. ‘He should stop hitting him nevertheless.’
‘We have to make him understand we’re not here to play around,’ Jan Dimir says. ‘And we have a doctor with us.’
‘Well, do something! You shouldn’t just stand there watching!’
‘Tara is right, you should lean Iorghu a hand.’
‘So what? Claudiu will patch him up later. And as I said, he’s not even bleeding. Maybe Iorghu should use something harder…’
The detective hisses something between his teeth, raising his hand again, preparing to strike. But Granny’s plea makes him hesitate.
‘He won’t be able to talk if you hit him unconscious!’
Ichabod Spectescu turns his head slowly towards the detective, looking up at him with one eye, the other closed, expecting another blow.
With a grunt Iorghu stands up, pulling the pale man up with a grip around the shirt and tie.
Ichabod sputters, straightening his tie. ‘Vă mulțumesc prietenul meu.’ He nods curtly to Granny who nods back.
‘She’s not your friend.’ Missy glares from Ichabod to her sister. ‘Are you happy now?’
‘As a matter of fact – yes.’
They escort the new arrival back to the bench where Costea Jonker is slowly regaining consciousness after the hard blow on his head. He’s leaning forward, rubbing his temporal with his left hand and looking, if possible, even paler than before.
The same scenario with shouting and waving guns around repeats itself, but with Missy now urging the men on.
‘Just shoot one of them! It will make the other talk!’
‘Missy! Be quiet!’ Granny is outraged at her sister’s behavior. She had never really seen this bloodthirsty side of her.
Discouraged, Missy joins her sister on the sidelines. ‘But I want a gun too. Why can’t I have a gun?’
Granny rolls her eyes. ‘Just because of what you just said. Among other things.’ She raises her voice, ‘HEY!’ making a sign with her hands that she had seen on a school basketball match she had taken Taïga to back in Bigwood Falls. The whole game had stopped and they had all joined the referee to discuss something or other. ‘HEY! Give them a break. They can’t make themselves heard even if they wanted to!’
‘Err… What’s that?’ Missy looks at her hands forming a T.
‘It’s international male language,’ she says dismissively, pushing some strands of hair up under her cap.
But her sister doesn’t let go. ‘It doesn’t seem to work.’
‘That’s probably because I would need a whistle to get their attention.’
Jan Dimir is getting excited, dangerously waving his big gun around and yelling at their prisoners. It’s the perfect moment for Missy to jump back in the action. She waves her arms, hollering louder than the others. And, unbelievably, it works. But not the way she had intended. Everyone stops and stares at her. Granny seizes the opportunity to try to talk some sense into the excited men, and the detective realizes that he might have gone a tad too far.
He raises a soothing hand towards his men and makes a short speech in Romanian that Granny doesn’t understand at all. She can read the expressions though, and the deception on her sister’s face says it all. So there will be no executions tonight.
Ichabod seems willing to talk. He speaks up, answering all the questions Iorghu Stanescu is asking. His friend just nods, waving his hand in agreement he seems like he wants to throw up.
Then the two prisoners sit silently, waiting for a decision to be made.
They troop out from the park and the few hundred meters across the street to where Ichabod told them a person – a certain Professor Varujan Torje – was the right man to ask about what they were looking for.
Under cover of the dark night they head towards an old four storey brick building Granny never had noticed before. The ornate façade is dimly lit up by pale lamplights, two towers rising high under the overcast sky. All the windows stare empty at them like a multitude of black eyes, hiding terrible secrets. The night is silent, the only sound coming from their shuffling feet and the water cascading from two old fountains in the yard.
‘What is this?’ she whispers to Missy as they stop on the huge porch in front of a massive oak door. ‘I’ve never noticed this building before.’
‘St. Andrei Șaguna Sanatarium,’ Missy whispers back. ‘But they aren’t treating tuberculosis anymore…’ she lets the sentence hang. ‘How are we supposed to get in without a key? And without being seen?’
Petre Belododia and Iorghu Stanescu are having a hushed conversation in front of the big door. It doesn’t only look very solid but also unfriendly. Granny shudders, trying to get rid of the sense of foreboding that makes her hair stand on end. She concentrates on decrypting the inscription above the door, without success.
She nudges her sister with her elbow. ‘So?’
‘So what? They can’t get in neither without a key.’
‘What are they treating?’
‘Oh. Crazy people.’
As if on cue, a horrible scream echoes through the night and they all stop to look up at the looming building.
Jan Dimir whispers something to their prisoners, who point towards the entrance door.
‘The scholar one says it’s the only entrance, but that the reception is unmanned during the night.’ She listens to the whispered conversation. ‘Brilliant!’
Granny looks expectantly at her.
‘The guy with the dreads apparently has a key!’
Costea Jonker and Ichabod Spectescu lead them through the deserted reception and through a door marked with a “no entrance – personnel only” sign. A stairway takes them down to the basement, where they follow the pipes lining the ceiling until they reach a heavy metal door. Costea Jonker slides a magnetic card through a contraption and the door slides open, revealing yet another metal staircase.
Missy peeks over the railing at the spiraling stairs leading down into darkness. ‘It’s all well going down, but what about when we have to leave? Is there an elevator? Ascensor?’
But the two prisoners are already descending followed by the men and Granny, their steps echoing against the naked walls. The heavy door closes behind her with an ominous thunk.
‘So there’s no way but down, huh?’ She shrugs. ‘Wait for me!’
After the equivalent of at least four floors, they arrive at the bottom of the stairs. A long white, very hospital looking, corridor lined with identical metal doors lies in front of them. It is hard to judge the length as the lights switch on as they advance.
‘Very ecological,’ Missy says to herself. She stops to look through the windows of one of the doors.
‘It’s all dark.’ She reaches for the handle. The door is unlocked. ‘Maybe there is something important in here?’ She pushes the door open and peeks inside. Darkness.
Granny grabs her arm.
‘Are you crazy, Missy. You can’t go around pushing up doors like this.’
‘Why not? We’re searching for clues, aren’t we?’
Granny pulls the door closed and smiles apologetically at Petre Belododia who has backtracked to check why they are getting behind.
‘I’m sorry. The stairs…’
‘You can’t get behind. It could be dangerous – or set off some alarm. Hurry up!’ He waves with his gun, urging them on.
They turn the corner and catch up with the others who are waiting for them. Granny smiles apologetically again. ‘The stairs…’
Iorghu Stanescu nods. ‘We’ll advance slower from here. Petre? Keep up the rear and make sure nobody strays.’ He looks meaningfully at Missy who innocently turns her head and looks over her shoulder to see who he might be addressing.
‘But, Iorghu!’ Petre Belododia whines. ‘What if we’re attacked from behind?’
‘Exactly. Keep an eye out.’ He signals for Ferka Mitu to bring up the prisoners, letting them walk in front as a shield.
Missy can’t help herself. She stops ever so often to look through the thick glass of the metal doors, her sister tugging her on.
‘We can’t get away from the others,’ Granny pleas.
‘Bine. Who knows what is lurking behind those doors…’ Petre Belododia keeps in the middle of the corridor, throwing worried glances over his shoulder.
‘You heard him. Let’s not stray behind.’
‘Petre is scared. I’m not. I think this is exciting!’
‘Well, it slows us all down,’ Granny says drily. ‘Look. I think we’ve arrived.’
The men have stopped in front of one of the doors.
They take up position on each side of the door while Ichabod Spectescu nocks. Nobody answers, so he knocks with more insistence.’
‘Profesor?Sunt eu – Ichabod. Și Costea.’
When there still is no answer, Iorghu signals for the two men to stand back. He reaches out and opens the door, bursting in to the room with his rifle held in position. But the office is empty.
‘Where is he? You told us we would find answers!’
‘We took you here – to the Professor’s office…’ The two prisoners look at each other. ‘We don’t know where he is. He’s usually here…’
Iorghu tries to contain his anger.
‘Maybe we should listen to her-’ He nods towards Missy who has pushed forward.
‘Oh, yes! Which one shall we execute first? Or shall we start with some torturing? I have heard about the Japanese who put bamboo sticks under the fingernails and- Ouch!’
Granny has also forced her passage through and is grabbing Missy’s arm in midsentence. ‘Let’s search the premises for clues,’ she says, keeping her sister’s arm in a hard grip.
The two prisoners seem to relax at her proposition, and are throwing each other knowing glances as Iorghu Stanescu directs them back into the corridor.
‘Claudiu and Ferka, keep an eye on the prisoners. Apostol, Miss Grey and Miss Grey – help me go through the room. You-’ He nods at the others. ‘Disperse and check the other rooms for suspicious… err… things.’
The men troop out again, but Petre Belododia hangs back. ‘I could help search for clues, I know documents.’
‘Are you any good with computers?’ The detective looks at the laptop on the desk.
Petre hesitates, ‘Err… No.’
‘Well, then. You’re of better use with the others. They might stumble on enemies and a good shot is valuable.’
Petre looks at his gun, regretting having boasted about his skills. Especially as he had never even held a gun before tonight. But Iorghu has dismissed him and is already taking a seat behind the professor’s large desk. Without looking at Petre, he starts going through the drawers.
Missy is miffed about having been cut off by her sister and is demonstratively ignoring her. She starts out with the lockers without finding anything more suspicious than dirty socks and lab-coats. Lots of lab-coats. Which is normal, she muses. Lab coats in a hospital can’t be worth noting. She goes through the pockets just to show how zealous she is, but they are empty. Apart from a single, tiny key in each, but that is normal, too. She has a whole bunch of keys in her own pockets…
Granny and the old apothecary take down all the information they can find. While Apostol Alexandrescu goes through the numerous file cabinets, Granny takes down the names on the locked postboxes on the wall.
After thoroughly going through the drawers and stocking the worthwhile documents in the briefcase Apostol Alexandrescu had brought back from the vehicle, the detective finally takes on the challenge of breaking into the laptop. Unsuccessfully…
While Apostol draws up a chair next to Iorghu and tries to help him find the password, Granny starts on the bookcase. Surprisingly there are only an encyclopedia and lots of novels. Granny doesn’t know exactly what she is looking for, but she thinks that some medical journals or a copy of something resembling Gray’s Anatomy would be normal in a professor’s library. But there is nothing even close to science.
Missy has finished the boring job assigned to her. She takes up position next to her sister by the bookcase and studiously ignores her. The professor is well read. All the great classics in what looks like leather-bound first editions are rubbing shoulders on the packed shelves.
Rubbing her hands in anticipation she finds what she was looking for. She reaches for the worn cover of Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”, but it seems to be stuck. All this leather packed so hard together… She tries to ease her fingers in between the books but it is impossible. Maybe if she pushes first and then wiggles it out…
Without a sound, the whole bookcase gives way and slides aside, revealing a dark room behind.
‘Oh my God! It’s a secret door!’ Granny gasps.
‘Leading to a secret room,’ Missy adds, taking a step forward, but is being held back by Apostol Alexandrescu.
‘Wait. Let Iorghu check first.’
The detective approaches. ‘It looks like a storage room…’ He fumbles for the light switch on the wall and a faint electric light flickers on.
Missy tries to see inside, but is disappointed when she only discovers old crates stacked along the walls. ‘Medical supplies…’ she looks up at her sister who is talking to the detective in a low voice. ‘We should open these. To check if there’s no vampires inside, I mean. They seem to like getting shipped in coffins all over the world, just waiting to burst out and feed.’
Granny just looks at her with one of her special expressions, a combination of despair and contempt. Oh, how Missy hates it when her sister looks at her like that.
‘They are square, Missy.’
‘So what? Maybe they are sitting. Or crouching. Or maybe…’ she sighs, obvious of her sister’s despairing look. ‘Ahem… So maybe there’s only cotton pads and syringes and stuff. You know what? I’ll just go and help Apostol out. Classing real documents and stuff…’
Petre Belododia has lingered by the door, reluctant to adventure farther into the the maze of corridors. He can vaguely see Iorghu and Apostol in deep conversation through the frosted windowpanes. One of the old ladies is hovering behind them, looking restless. She waves at him and he quickly takes a step back, feeling guilty.
‘Hey, Petre!’ Jan Dimir waves at him from the corner. ‘Get Iorghu and come over here!’
Petre quickly pushes the door open, and full of his own importance, whispers in the detective’s ear. Missy tries to hear what they are saying but her hearing is decidedly not as good as before. Oh, my. Is she ageing?
Missy would have preferred to accompany the detective but he tells her to help Apostol go through the documents. Bleh. So boring. She is here for the adventure, not for doing a librarian’s job. Or a secretary’s. Whatever…
Granny doesn’t mind being left alone. She feels that something is off with the little storage room and prefers not being interrupted while she searches through it.
‘Why hide a storage room behind a secret door?’ she mutters to herself, taking in the wooden boxes and the lockers that take up most of the opposite wall. ‘There must be something in here…’
While Granny scrupulously goes through the secret room, Iorghu Stanescu and Petre Belododia follow Jan Dimir through the basement.
The journalist is jumpy, but Jan Dimir assures him the way is all clear.
‘-at least this part. We’d better watch out after we’ve passed through the boiler room, though.’
‘So what have you found?’ Petre whispers, letting both men precede him through the door.
‘You have to see it for yourself, it’s kind of hard to describe.’
Petre has a thousand questions, but has to contend with that.
Claudiu Iliescu has been waiting for them at one of the bends. He peeks around the corner with his weapon ready, but exhales with relief at the sight of his friends.
He gestures for them to hurry, putting his finger over his lips to emphasize that they must be quiet.
Petre swallows. Maybe he should have stayed with the elders. He is after all quite good at digging up information. But he isn’t quite ready to backtrack neither. The long corridors are like a maze, and what if he is surprised by someone? Or something…
The corridor makes a sharp right and ends in a cul-de-sac. The other members of the group are crowded around a large steel door, but they quickly step back to let Iorghu have a look through the dirty glass. It is dark on the other side, but Iorghu can see the faint outlines of a strange object.
His mouth falls open in astonishment and he takes a step back. ‘Is there any sign of movement?’
‘No. We think it is empty. But we can’t be sure there aren’t any alarms…’
The strange object makes Petre even more nervous. He walks over to the corner, carefully peeking around it. In movies, this is where the bad things start happening. His eyes dart between the murky corridor and the group discussing if it’s safe to go into the huge, dark room.
Ferka Misu taps him on the shoulder and he almost pees himself with fright.
‘All’s clear. C’mon on.’
He hesitates, but being alone out here is not very compelling so he follows Ferka into the vast storeroom filled with weird, alien looking, machines. The two prisoners are strangely upset.
‘Be quiet, both of you!’ Alex shushes, adding to Petre to keep an eye on them so he can explore the strange vehicle.
Petre is nervous, fiddling with his weapon. He doesn’t know what to fear most – vampires or aliens? He has seen the movie and decides that aliens must be worse. At least they are supposedly bigger. With rows upon rows of sharp teeth and tentacles and- ‘Hey! What are you whispering about?’
Ichabod Spectescu shrugs. ‘Nothing.’
‘Is this a seat!’
‘Yeah, and a wheel.’
‘No, they’re handlebars, like in a plane.’
‘I think this is Army top secret!’
‘Yeah, kind of next generation Black Hawks or something like that.’
‘How many are there? Must be at least a dozen…’
’37. There are 37.’ Iorghu’s phone vibrates. With a sigh he pulls it out of his pocket and checks the caller ID. ‘It’s the old lady who is probably worried about us… I better take this.’ He walks away a few steps and answers.
‘You should come back here, I’ve found something interesting.’
‘We have found something too, Miss Grey. Something very important and that changes everything about our vampire theory.’
Your vampire theory, Granny thinks. But instead she says out loud, ‘Oh… But I’ve found another door and I think you should be here when I open it!’
Ferka Mitu and Alex are left in the underground hangar to inventory the space vehicles while the others hurry back to the secret room.
‘Where’s the door?’ Iorghu Stanescu looks around the confined space. ‘You told me there was a door?’
‘Well. I found this, here on the floor-’ Granny holds up a shiny object the size of a shoebox. ‘-and when I bent over to pick it up, I saw these marks on the floor. Like these lockers had been moved.’
‘So she thinks there is another secret door!’ Missy intervenes, beaming. ‘What are you waiting for? Go ahead – move it!’
Jan Dimir steps forward and pushes at the heavy lockers, but nothing happens, apart from him turning beet red with exertion. The lockers are heavier than they look, and even when they all push, they don’t budge.
Granny looks at the two prisoners who seem to have fun watching the sweating and swearing men.
‘I think they know how to access the door.’
Iorghu waves them over, and Costea Jonker steps forward. With an inquiring glance at his friend, he turns the handles of the lockers in a complicated sequence, and a clinking sound can be heard from behind them.
‘Oh! They were fastened to the wall,’ Missy exclaims. ‘How clever! Don’t you think so, Tara?’
With a lot of scraping, the lockers are now easy to push aside. A slick steel door with a strange, arrow-like sign glowing light blue is uncovered.
Granny touches the smooth surface, amazed to find it isn’t cold: She must have touched the locking mechanism, because the door opens with a hiss. She tries to pass through, but Iorghu stops her with a hand on her shoulder.
‘Let me and Claudiu go first, we don’t know what to expect.’
Granny impatiently follows them through the door. ‘Oh. My. God!’
Part I – End of Chapter 42