Monday morning was hot and muggy. Ruby pushed strands of perspiration soaked hair away from her forehead as she transferred her computerized charting over the Internet to the Black Water Staffing Solutions office and then closed the work laptop. She stood up from the desk and looked out the west-facing window of her room. Past Castle Moldovan, ominous charcoal colored clouds along the horizon foretold an approaching thunderstorm. A sudden gust of cool wind blew in through her open windows, causing the bed canopy and skirt to flutter. She was closing the window when there was a knock at her open door.
She turned to see the housemaid standing in the opening. “Hi, Mrs. Reinhardt. What can I do for you?”
“Lady Beth and Victor are having guests over for an afternoon meal and I was wondering if you have any downtime. I am requesting your help in the kitchen.”
Requesting? How about demanding, Ruby thought. “Sure, I just finished charting and Patty is still with Lord Andrei.”
“Thank you,” Mrs. Reinhardt said, waiting for Ruby to follow her down the hallway. “It’s not a large meal, but it is rather unexpected.”
Ruby walked with the maid down the corridor to the stairway. As much as she did not want to slave away in the kitchen on such a humid day, it would give her an opportunity to befriend Mrs. Reinhardt; it was possible she may have some information that would help her find Alan. They walked down the stairway, through the small dining room, and into the covered walkway between the main house and the kitchen. It felt rather dangerous walking through the tunnel of glass walls as the strong wind buffeted the fragile looking panels. “There’s a storm on the way.”
“We are under a severe thunderstorm watch,” Mrs. Reinhardt said as they walked into the kitchen.
The heavenly aroma of cinnamon and brown sugar took Ruby’s mind away from the approaching storm. There were apple and cherry pies on cooling racks and canned jams on the side counter. Then she looked at the base stations for both Lord Andrei’s call button and the front gate and noticed a NOAA weather radio sitting on the shelf next to it with an orange LED light glowing. “Does this place have a basement in case we need it?”
“The main house has a basement, but the kitchen does not,” Mrs. Reinhardt said as she placed a pork tenderloin into a pan. “The manor and the old Monastery of the Holy Ghost have been around a long time and survived many a storm. I doubt it will be any different this time.”
Well, that was good to hear but not all that comforting. After all, even the legendary island of Atlantis sank into the sea. “What would you like me to help with?”
“If you could peel potatoes, that would be very helpful,” Mrs. Reinhardt said. She pointed to a ten-pound bag of russets sitting near the sink. “There’s a paring knife in that drawer.”
Ruby found the knife and began peeling the potatoes while Mrs. Reinhardt put the seasoned roast into the oven. Now was her opportunity to gather some information. “How long have you worked here?”
“I’ve been here since my husband died more than three decades ago. The Lord and Lady were kind enough to take me in, they are just like family to me,” Mrs. Reinhardt said, washing her hands in the sink. She looked over at Ruby, removing the tuberous skins with care. “I am curious, however, why you accepted this job. Most people do not like being around the manor house.”
Ruby placed a cut potato in a pot of water and decided she would mention Alan. She had wanted to keep the real reason she took the job a secret but decided it was best if she told the maid just in case she happened to know something important about his disappearance. “I guess I’m not sure what there is to be afraid of, besides I’m trying to find my missing brother, Alan, and I thought being on the island would help me find him.”
“Alan Rush, the reporter?” Mrs. Reinhardt said, clenching a hand towel.
Ruby was surprised she had heard of him, especially since they do not have any televisions in the mansion. “Yes, that’s him. Are you able to help me find him?”
Mrs. Reinhardt did not answer as she finished drying her hands. Then she laid the folded towel on the counter before opening the refrigerator.
Ruby thought she would ease into the next set of questions since the maid did not want to talk about it. “That old monastery is something, it’s just like an old medieval castle.”
“You get used to it after a while,” Mrs. Reinhardt said as she sat a dish of butter on the counter.
Ruby kept her hands busy with the peeling. “Have you ever been in it?”
“Never, it is forbidden. It’s too dangerous because it is old and in bad condition.”
Then Ruby saw Mrs. Reinhardt spread a white crochet doily on the tabletop. “That’s a beautiful star and picot; did you make it?”
Mrs. Reinhardt stopped smoothing the doily and looked at Ruby, apparently surprised by her comment. “I did indeed, but how did you recognize the pattern?”
“I crochet them, too.” Ruby smiled; she had found something that she and Mrs. Reinhardt had in common. “I’m not very good, but I did manage to make some decent looking round ones for my living room. I’m currently working on a scarf, well, I haven’t actually done anything with it for a while.”
“When there’s time, I can teach you some patterns,” Mrs. Reinhardt said, smiling for the first time since they met. “I’ve made hats, socks, and shawls. They make good gifts.”
“I would love that.” Not wanting to spoil the newfound connection, Ruby continued talking with Mrs. Reinhardt about crocheting, knitting, and needlepoint. She was genuinely enjoying the conversation.
When Ruby had finished peeling the last potato and there was a moment of silence—except for the rain now pelting the kitchen window—Ruby felt the need to turn the discussion to finding her brother. “From my bedroom window, I sometimes see lights on in the old monastery. Are you sure no one lives there?”
“The Vroloks do not keep me informed of the goings-on in the abandoned buildings. It is not any of my business and is best if it is kept that way, even for you.”
“But I did see someone leave Lord Andrei’s room and walk down the southwest wing. He looked like a monk. Could there still be monks there? It’s possible some never left.”
“Lord Andrei does receive visitors from time to time.”
“But surely you have to run into them.”
“Indeed, I have, but I do not insert myself into others affairs,” Mrs. Reinhardt said. Her jovial mood had turned somber. “The less I know the better.”
“But I saw him walk down the wing that goes to the monastery so unless he has a room down there, he’s going into the monastery. You must know that.”
Then Mr. Miller walked into the room from the storehouse and sat down on a wooden chair next to the massive stone fireplace as if a fire were burning. “Why don’t you just tell her.”
Ruby looked at the butler. “Tell me what?”
“We’re forbidden to tell anyone,” Mrs. Reinhardt said. She shot him a disapproving look.
“Then I’ll tell her,” Mr. Miller took a flask from an inside jacket pocket and looked at Ruby as he twisted the top. “I overheard your conversation. Since you live in this house, you have the right to know.”
“You’re drinking,” Mrs. Reinhardt said, walking up to him. “Give me that.”
“It’s my day off and I’m allowed a drink,” Mr. Miller said, taking another swig.
“We servants have to stick together,” Mr. Miller said, not letting the maid take his liquor.
Ruby was surprised that the maid and butler were not as devoted to the Vroloks as she had thought. In fact, their behavior was rather amusing. “Please tell me what you were going to say.”
Mrs. Reinhardt put her hands on her hips as the butler continued, “There’re indeed monks over in there and they are not the holy kind. There’s also other people who come and go into the monastery’s harbor on sailing ships; I see them when I’m outside tending the landscape. I can’t prove it but I think they’re responsible for all the disappearances and murders that have been going on around here because the increased deliveries at the port coincide with the disappearances.”
His story was matching up with Ethel’s.
“How do I get over there?”
“There’s no going over there,” Mrs. Reinhardt said, sternly. “The door is locked.”
Mr. Miller reached into another pocket and pulled out a set of keys. “I can get in there.”
“You’ll be fired,” Mrs. Reinhardt said. “The liqueur’s talking. How do you have a key, anyway? I thought Lord Andrei was the only one with a key.”
“He gave it to me a while back when his mind began to go. I don’t think he knew what he was doing when he gave it to me instead of Victor. Ah, who cares,” he said, sliding the key off the ring, handing it to Ruby. “If you don’t get caught, no one will know and no one will get into any hot water. I’m getting too old to keep splitting their wood and carrying the luggage of able-bodied people. Retirement to a nursing home actually sounds like a good idea.”
“Thank you,” Ruby said, taking the key. “I don’t know how to repay you.”
“Maybe it will help you find out what happened to your brother,” Mr. Miller said, slurring his words. “Just don’t get caught.”