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, 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. Cladiu 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’s 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.’
Granny raises her hand. ‘I think we should try as soon as possible – before Easter.’ I don’t want to have Taïga around if something bad happens…
‘So… It sounds good to me. I’ll call Jan Dimir and Ferka Mitu tonight. It will take some time to put together an operation like this, but it should be possible for the next full moon. When is it?’
‘Next Thursday,’ Missy says.
‘All right. So next Thursday it is.’
The following Thursday…
‘You can’t be serious? We said camouflage! And what’s that? A scarf?’ Claudiu is outraged by Petre’s outfit.
‘And what’s wrong with my scarf?’
Claudiu snickers: ‘Nothing – if you’re going to a “soirée”…’
The arrival of Iorghe calms them down. ‘OK. Stop arguing. I’ve probably got something in the van for you, Petre. Let’s move.’
Iorghu had a black sweatshirt in his van, so Petre is correctly outfitted upon arrival at Granny’s.
Granny is leaving when Missy comes running downstairs. ‘WAIT! You weren’t leaving without me, were you!?!’
Iorghu is embarrassed. Granny heaves a sigh… ‘OK, get upstairs and change.’
‘Is this good enough.’
‘Very. You don’t have time to change the heels, we’re in a hurry.’
Claudiu and Jan are criticizing Petre’s camouflage war paint. ‘So what? Who said it has to be ugly? This is stylish camouflage! French soldiers always…’
He’s interrupted by the arrival of Iorghu and the two old ladies. ‘Get in the van everybody. We’re moving out.’
When they arrive at Pitch Park, everything is quiet.
Granny stays behind to hide the van.
She makes sure nobody sees her, then she takes out her wand…
… and “voilà”!
She hurries to take up her position in the bushes… And the long wait begins…
Time goes by slowly… Granny fights the urge to sleep.
Missy is bored, but she has brought Taïga’s iPad so she can check the numerous dating services she’s listed in…
A taxi! Iorghu warns the others.
Missy snaps to attention and puts away the iPad.
A pale figure steps out of the taxi and sits down on the bench right in front of Missy.
The men jump out of the bushes and surround him, brandishing their weapons! The poor man is too afraid to move… Iorghu soon gets the information he wants – the pale stranger’s name is Costea Jonker and he’s there to meet 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.
A couple of minutes later, another pale stranger hurries into the park, looking frantically around him.
‘Ichabod! I’m over here!’
The same scenario repeats itself, but with Missy urging the men on. ‘Shoot one of them! It will make the other talk!…’
‘Missy! Be quiet!’ Granny tries to calm her sister.
‘But I want a gun too. Why can’t I have a gun?’ Granny rolls her eyes. That’s definitely NOT on the list…
Jan gets excited, waving his big gun around, yelling at their prisoners. Granny tries to make them all calm down and listen to Ichabod who seems willing to talk; without any shooting.
They get into the van again, taking their prisoners with them, and they drive to where Ichabod told them a person – a certain Professor Varujan Torje – could give them answers…
St. Andrei Șaguna Sanitarium…
The big hospice is creepy at night, but they follow Ichabod’s instructions and are surprised to find the big entrance door unlocked.
Costea Jonker and Ichabod Spectescu lead them downstairs, into the basement, through long empty corridors lined with doors…
Missy stops to peek inside, but it slows them down so Granny urges her on.
Finally they push through one of the doors, into an office. ‘Where is he? You told us we would find answers!’
‘We took you here – to the Professor’s office… I don’t know where he is. He’s usually here…’
Iorghu tries to contain his anger: ‘Let’s search the premises for clues.’
‘… and Claudiu, wait outside with Jonker and Spectescu!’
Missy goes through the lockers without finding anything more suspicious than dirty socks, and lab-coats. Lots of lab-coats…
Granny takes down all the information she can find.
Iorghu sits down at the desk, and after thoroughly going through the drawers…
… finally takes on the challenge of breaking into the laptop. Unsuccessfully…
Hmmm… The professor is well read… No medical journals though… Not even a copy of Gray’s Anatomy!..
Missy is also studying one of the well filled book cases.
Hmmm… I think I got something here…
Oh, yesssss! She rubs her hands in anticipation.
Then she pulls out a first issue of Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”…
… and calmly sits down to read! Meanwhile, Granny’s hunch proved right. She has found a secret door!
But she’s disappointed to find it only leads into a half empty store room.
‘Hey, Petre! Get Iorghu and come over here!
Iorghu hurries outside and leaves Granny to search through the store room. I don’t understand… Why hide a store room behind a secret door? There must be something in here…
Iorghu and the others are searching through the rest of the basement…
The long corridors are like a maze, but they are careful not to get lost… or surprised by someone… or something…
‘All’s clear. C’mon on.’
… one last bend… a cul-de-sac!
The cul-de-sac ends with a large steel door.
The glass is dirty and it’s dark on the other side, but Iorghu can see the outlines of a strange object.
Petre feels a little jumpy. He keeps watch while the others discuss if it’s safe to go into the huge, dark room.
He finally follows the others into the vast storeroom filled with weird machines. Costea and Ichabod are strangely upset.
‘Be quiet, both of you!’ Petre is nervous. ‘What are you whispering about?’
Ichabod 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…
Granny has found something, and she’s calling Iorghu . ‘You should come back here, I’ve found something interesting.’
‘We have found something too.’
‘Oh… But I’ve found another door and I think you should be here when I open it!’
Iorghu and the men hurry back to help Granny move the heavy lockers…
… Uncovering a steel door with a strange, arrow-like sign on it.
Granny must have touched the locking mechanism, because the door opens with a hiss. Granny tries to pass through, but Iorghu stops her.
‘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