As the paramedics wrapped stretchy white gauze around Ethel’s head to stop the profuse bleeding, she reached out to Ruby, who was kneeling next to her, and grabbed her arm with the strength of someone about to drown, taking their last breath. “Feriţi-vă vampir, pericol.”
Ruby looked at Ethel’s glazed eyes that seemed to be staring past her. “What? I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Relicvă, relicvă, relicvă,” Ethel kept repeating. Then one of the attendants pried Ethel’s gnarled hand from Ruby’s red skin as they put her on the stretcher and began rolling her through the store. The ambulance sirens blared as they whisked Ethel away to the hospital.
“What was she saying?” Sammy said, jamming his hands nervously into his damp armpits.
Ruby held her bloody hands away from her body. “I don’t know. It sounded like a foreign language.”
Sammy took out his phone and typed Ethel’s words into its notepad. “I want to save it so I don’t forget and then we can look it up later.”
“The bathroom’s back here,” Fran said, walking up to Ruby.
“Thanks,” she said, following Fran to the back of the store.
Fran opened the door and turned on both the light and the water faucet. “You’re a friend of Ethel’s, aren’t you?”
Ruby lathered up her hands and arms. “Kind of. I only just met her but we’ve talked and I’ve been to her apartment.”
“I know this is asking a lot,” Fran said, glancing at Ruby’s reflection in the mirror. “But I want to be at the hospital with Ethel. After I shoo these people out of here, would you mind locking up the store for me? Also, could you check and make sure Ethel’s apartment door is closed and locked?”
“Sure,” Ruby said, watching pink bubbles flow down the washbowl’s drain.
“Thanks,” Fran said, walking away. She picked up her purse from under the counter and shouted back to Ruby, “I owe you one.”
Sammy stood outside the bathroom, looking at Fran as she instructed people to leave the shop and then run out the back door in a rush. “I guess we’re in charge of The Feathered Peacock.”
Ruby dried her arms with brown paper towels and turned off the light as she walked out of the restroom. The last person left the store and the shopkeeper’s bell stopped ringing. “It’s so quiet in here.”
Sammy walked through the disheveled store and locked the entrance door. He looked back at the toppled chairs and handouts scattered across the floor. “Should we straighten up?”
Ruby was standing by the puddle of blood on the hardwood floor next to Ethel’s table. “I suppose we should at least wipe up the blood and stack the chairs; that way Fran doesn’t come back to a total disaster.”
Sammy found a closet of cleaning supplies near the bathroom. He wiped up the blood while Ruby stacked the chairs into neat piles. When they were satisfied with what they had accomplished, they went up the steps and stood in front of Ethel’s apartment door.
Ruby turned the doorknob, and the door opened. “I guess we’d better lock it.”
Sammy looked inside the apartment and noticed disorderly heaps of books on top of Ethel’s dining table. “Wow, looks like she was reading a lot.”
Ruby stepped inside and turned the lock on the back of the door. Then she looked at the table piled high with books that looked like they came from an antique shop. “I shouldn’t do this, but I want to see if she was working on something important; something I should know about.”
Sammy walked into the room and joined Ruby at the table. “They’re not written in English.”
Ruby picked up a hardcover book—its corners frayed and spine scuffed— and opened it to the title page. She breathed in the musty scent as she flipped the fragile page to the copyright notice. “This one looks like it was published in Romania in nineteen thirty-six. It’s really old, I wonder where she got it.”
“Here’s a library book that is written in English,” Sammy said, holding up a modern book with a lettered and numbered label taped to the dust jacket. “It’s called, The History of Real Vampires.”
“Looks like she was researching them,” Ruby said, thumbing through the books. Then she noticed a closed spiral-bound notebook. She opened it and looked through Ethel’s scribbles. “Since most of these books are Romanian, Ethel must be from that country because she even writes in the language.”
Sammy looked at the words penned in the unfamiliar alphabet. “There could be something in here that will explain what she was trying to tell you before she went to the hospital. Do you think she’d mind if I took pictures of her notes?”
“I doubt it,” Ruby said, watching Sammy as he took a phone from the pocket of his baggy jeans. “She was trying to tell me something important and I should try to find out what it was.”
Sammy began snapping pictures of the notebook pages and book covers. “I’ll see if I can figure out what she was working on and what the meaning of the words she was saying to you are.”
“That’s a good idea,” Ruby said. She sighed and rubbed her temple. “We should leave. I’m getting a headache and I don’t feel right going through any more of her stuff while she’s sick in the hospital.”
Sammy nodded and slid the phone back into his pocket. “Hopefully, I can interpret some of this. I’ll let you know what I come up with.”