“I’m done,” she said. “Park in the turnaround and I’ll meet you in the driveway.”
“Alright, I’m on my way.”
Ruby put the relic around her neck and under her shirt so that it was—at least a little—less noticeable. After completing only enough charting to complete the main tasks at hand, she placed her work laptop into its nursing bag. Then she picked up her backpack, containing the most important things she owned—her purse and computer—and slung it over her shoulder. The rest of her belongings would serve as Sammy’s cover for being there if anyone were to notice him in the mansion when he came to help Ruby to move out. Granted, she did not have many things to move and she could move them herself in only a couple trips, but she could think of no other valid reason for him to be there.
When she opened the bedchamber door, she heard distant voices. It sounded as though Victor was speaking with someone downstairs. She did not want Victor to see her because he would likely begin questioning her about why she was still hanging around. It was better to avoid everyone, including Mrs. Reinhardt and Mr. Miller. She liked the both of them but she would need to be in stealth mode as she and Sammy began their search for Alan.
Moments later, through her cracked door, she heard the conversation end, and what sounded like Victor walk up the staircase and into Lord Andrei’s room and then forcefully close the bedroom door.
She looked back at the suitcases next to the bed and it was then that she noticed Patty’s bag was missing. When did that happen? Patty must have come and gotten it when she was busy doing something else and then left in a hurry, without saying goodbye. Ruby would contact Patty later when she was safely off of Monks Hill.
Then she remembered Patty helping her hang garlic over the door and windows and about the bag filled with items to ward off vampires that Ethel had given her. How could she have almost forgotten to take them with her? She pulled out the desk chair and removed the garlic bundles protecting her room. Unfortunately, the pushpins would not work for pinning the cloves to her shirt, so she put a couple cloves into her tight pocket—one for her and one for Sammy—next to the cell phone and key to the forbidden door, before putting the rest into her backpack. Then she shoved the small plastic bottle filled with holy water into her other pocket. Last but not least, she placed the large chain around her neck.
With her backpack placed back over a shoulder, Ruby crept into the silent hallway and down the staircase, being hyperalert for any sounds or movement. When she reached the central passage Ruby glanced into the small dining room, the little parlor, and the north parlor, relieved no one was around. When she got up to the front door, she looked at the house alarm panel. It did not look as though the alarm was set, making it possible for her to go out the door without setting off a siren and summoning people to run her way with angry faces.
But that would not happen, so she walked out the door and to her car. She popped the trunk, placed the backpack inside, and then jogged toward the side gate. She punched in the code and walked to the cottages. Patty’s car was gone, she had indeed left Vrolok manor; probably on the ferry heading for home.
Ruby began walking down the shaded driveway toward Sammy. He was carrying something in his hands. As he got closer, she could tell that he had a flashlight and a piece of paper.
“Hi Ruby,” he said, stopping to catch his breath. “This is the most exercise I’ve had in a long time.”
Ruby laughed. “Going down the hill back to your car will be a lot easier.”
“If I’m still alive.” He handed Ruby the map as they began walking up the steep incline.
“Where’d you get this?”
“From the library historian,” he said with heavy breaths. “She gave me copies of a bunch of stuff.”
Ruby unfolded the sheet of paper and looked at the floor plan of the mansion. She flipped it over and saw the layout of the monastery. “It’s not very easy to read.”
“Yeah, I know.”
She took the crucifix from her neck and one clove of garlic from her pocket and handed them both to Sammy. “These are yours.”
“I was wondering why I smelled lasagna.”
They chitchatted until they reached the French-style houses.
“Let’s rest a minute in the shade before I get you into the house.”
They sat on the doorstep of Patty’s cottage, in front of the blue door. Butterflies fluttered by while wasps flew behind a window shutter and buzzed inside a hidden nest. Ruby studied the map while Sammy began looking left and right.
“What are you looking for?”
“A water faucet.” He stood up. “I just found one. I’m dying of thirst.”
“I’ll get something cold for us to drink in—oh wait, I suppose it’s not wise to go into the kitchen. Never mind.”
Sammy cupped his hands and slurped the water flowing from the faucet. He splashed his face and then returned to Ruby’s side.
“Where on this map do you think Alan would be?” Ruby asked.
“It’s hard to say, but I suggest we work our way through the easy to get to areas of the maze first and then just keep working through the labyrinth until we’ve covered everything we can,” he said, sliding his finger over the map as if he were solving a child’s maze puzzle.
Ruby refolded the map. “Are you rested? We should get going before they wonder why my stuff is still in the house.”
Sammy picked up the flashlight and they walked to the curtain wall. Ruby punched in the code and they walked up to the front door. Ruby turned the knob and the door opened. But once they got inside, Victor was walking down the staircase toward them. Then Mrs. Reinhardt entered the central hall from the small dining room.
Sammy slid the flashlight into the back waistband of his jeans and covered it with his shirt as the two of them stood at the entrance.
“I expected you to be gone by now,” Victor said, walking up to them. He looked at Sammy. “Who are you? And why are you in my home?”
“This is my friend, Sammy,” Ruby said. “He’s here to help me move.”
“Mr. Miller would have done that for you.”
Ruby knew having Sammy in the mansion would not be taken well and she was disappointed she could not even manage the simple task of sneaking him inside. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s typical of you, Ms. Rush,” Victor said. He looked at Mrs. Reinhardt. “Will you please accompany Ms. Rush to her bedchamber and then escort the both of them outside.”
“Yes, Lord Victor.”
Lord Victor? It surprised Ruby to hear Victor referred to as a lord, but it did make sense now that his father Lord Andrei was deceased.
Ruby and Sammy followed Mrs. Reinhardt up the staircase.
When Ruby glanced back down to the central hall, Victor was missing, probably having gone to the study. She looked at Sammy who was giving her a look of ‘what do we do now?’
Short of tackling the feeble maid and tying her up with a gag in her mouth, she had no idea how they were going to get to the forbidden passage.
When they reached Ruby’s bedchamber, Mrs. Reinhardt stood outside the door while Ruby and Sammy went into the room.
“This is a nice room,” Sammy said. He stood in front of the window facing the castle. “Wow, this is some view.”
Ruby nodded and then moved her lips without speaking, ‘what are we going to do?’
Sammy shrugged and with a barely audible voice said, “talk to her.” Then he spoke louder, “Are these all your bags?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
Sammy looked back out the window. He frowned. “I think there are people over there. I thought that place was vacant.”
He pointed toward the nearest tower. “I thought I saw people moving around inside.”
Ruby jumped when she turned to see Mrs. Reinhardt standing behind them.
“Please gather all your belongings and take them out to your car,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Sammy said, promptly picking up the suitcases.
Ruby slung the nursing bag over her shoulder and she and Sammy followed the maid to the elevator. While they waited for it to rise to the second floor, Mrs. Reinhardt looked down, avoiding eye contact.
When they got out to the car Mrs. Reinhardt stood with her back to the mansion. When the luggage was packed, they stood there looking at the maid.
“I sometimes forget to lock and alarm the side door.” Mrs. Reinhardt said.
The out of the blue remark surprised Ruby as she tried to process what the maid—standing with her hands clasped over her prim white apron—was trying to tell her. Then she followed Mrs. Reinhardt’s eyes to a door toward the back of the house.
“The funeral home will be here to pick up Lord Andrei’s body at half past the hour. Lord Victor and Lady Beth will be distracted at that time. Godspeed, Ms. Rush.” Mrs. Reinhardt turned and walked back to the house.
“Thank you,” Ruby said as she got into the driver’s seat. She was sure Mrs. Reinhardt wanted to say more, but the Vroloks were likely watching them through a window somewhere.
Then Ruby realized she still had the gate opener. She took it from her visor and ran up to Mrs. Reinhardt as she was about to enter the house. “Mrs. Reinhardt, here’s the clicker.”
Mrs. Reinhardt stopped and turned to Ruby. “Thank you, my dear.”
Ruby was about to speak again when Mrs. Reinhardt interrupted. “Please leave and do not come back.”
Momentarily startled by Mrs. Reinhardt’s flip-flopping statements, she refocused and handed the maid the gate opener. Then she noticed Lady Beth peering through one of the open hall windows, watching. Ruby looked away and walked back to the car and drove toward the gate, opening before them.
“That was weird,” Sammy said. “But I think she was trying to help by telling us about that other door.”
“I think you’re right. I’m going to park by your car and then we can walk back up the hill.”
“Not again,” Sammy said. “How about parking behind one of the houses where they won’t be able to see your car?”
Ruby parked behind a cottage that was partially hidden by spruce trees. She turned the car so that it was facing the driveway, enabling them to see when the hearse drove up to get the body. They opened the car doors to catch a breeze and waited for the opportune moment to go back through the gate.
“I’ll be right back,” Sammy said as he got out of the car. “If we’re going to be running around the castle, I think I had better urinate while I can.”
Ruby watched Sammy walk behind the garage. Moments later he ran up to the car.
“I think you might want to see this,” he said, motioning for Ruby to follow him to the walk-in door at the side of the garage. “Look inside.”
Ruby put a hand next to her face and peered through the glass. “That looks like Patty’s car. I thought she left.”
Sammy tried to open the door, but it was locked. He put his weight into it and the lock broke. He pushed it the rest of the way open and they walked inside.
Ruby walked up to the rust bucket and looked inside. “Oh my god, this really is Patty’s car and that’s her bag in the backseat.”
“Are you positive?” Sammy said, opening the car door.
Ruby reached inside and opened the bag. “Yes, this is definitely her stuff. I need to call the police.”
“The funeral home is here,” Sammy said. “We’d better go; you can call in a little while.”
Ruby slid the phone back into her pocket, ran to her car to get the keys and to lock the door, before putting them into her pocket.
“This way,” Sammy said, runny like a lumbering giant toward the pedestrian gate.
They watched as the hearse backed up to the front door. Then two people got out.
“When they go inside, we’ll give it a minute or so and then we’ll run to that door Mrs. Reinhardt looked at,” Ruby said while she punched in the code for the gate.
When the time came they ran through the gate, into the driveway, and to the distant door. She turned the knob and the door opened. Sammy followed her inside.
“Where are we,” Sammy whispered as he quietly closed the door.
Ruby shrugged. “Crap, I left the map in the car.”
“And I left the flashlight in the car,” Sammy said.
“That’s not all,” Ruby said, feeling her pockets in a near panic. “I lost the key that would’ve gotten us into the monastery. It must’ve fallen from my pocket when I took out one of the garlic cloves.”
When they calmed down from being upset by their carelessness, the two of them found themselves standing in a type of mudroom. A couple pair of boots were on a mat next to the door. Pegs held a jacket, raincoat, and a hat. This must be the entrance that Mr. Miller used, Ruby thought as she fought back tears of hopelessness. She had come so close to getting into the inner ward and finding Alan, but now it seemed too many obstacles had been placed before her.
“Let’s go through the door,” Sammy said. “There has to be another way into the castle. Besides, the odds of us finding just the right moment to sneak down the hall to that forbidden wing seemed like it was going to be near impossible, anyway.”
“I agree, but that was the only door that I had a key to. I’m sure if there are other doors to the castle, they would all be locked.”
“Let’s look anyway,” Sammy said. He opened the door and walked into what looked like had once been—years ago—a tiny efficiency apartment. Now, the only furniture in the main living area was a chair and a potbelly stove. They walked up to the next door. Sammy tried to open it but it was locked.
“It’s a dead end. I don’t believe this,” Ruby said, plopping down on the dusty chair.
“We’re a pitiful pair of detectives,” Sammy said.
Ruby burst out laughing and then Sammy joined her.
“I can’t imagine us as professional private eyes,” Ruby said. “We forgot the flashlight and the map, and I lost the key. If we find Alan, and Patty for that matter, it will be a miracle.”
Sammy looked at Ruby and the relic still hidden underneath her T-shirt. He pointed at it. “Speaking of miracles, you have one around your neck.”
Ruby pulled up on the chain holding the finger of doubting Saint Thomas and let the glass caged relic rest over her chest. Whether real or placebo, she felt a second wind come over her. “You’re right. I didn’t come all this way only to fail because of stupidity. The relic might be able to help us, but I don’t know how.”
“The maid wouldn’t have directed us here for no reason, there has to be something we’re missing,” Sammy said. “Unless she wanted to torment you for that fiasco with the guy you were taking care of.”
“I don’t want to think about it,” Ruby said, squishing an ant about to climb up her shoe. Then she stomped her foot, frustrated things were not going as planned.
But as her foot impacted the dirty wooden floorboards, a door creaked open. They looked at it and then at each other.
“We checked that room, it’s like a bedroom or something.” Sammy stood up and walked to the door, pushing it the rest of the way open, then he walked the rest of the way inside the room. Moments later he called out, “Ruby, come here.”
“What?” Ruby stood up and walked to the doorway. The once dark room was now filled with light.
“It’s an exterior window,” Sammy said, pushing a dresser to the side, exposing the window.
“I didn’t notice that earlier,” Ruby said. “How’d you find it this time?”
“I heard a bug or something hit the glass. And glass on a wall is a window.”
When they looked out the window, they noticed that the afternoon sun was dimming as dark clouds began to develop above Monks Hill.
“I don’t understand this island weather,” Sammy said.
“I don’t understand how we got so lucky,” Ruby said.
“It’s opened a crack, so I’m thinking a draft must have pulled the door open. But either way, this is our ticket to getting closer to the castle.” He slid the window open and removed the screen. “We may not be able to get into the castle from inside the mansion, but I’ll bet there’s an opening or something that we can use to get through that inner wall.”
“I hope so.” Ruby walked up next to him. “The outer wall they keep maintained, but this inner wall doesn’t look like they’ve done anything to it. Look over there, it’s crumbling.”
Sammy smiled at Ruby and then he knelt so that his knee served as a step. “Ladies first.”
Ruby climbed through the small window with little difficulty. She turned back to see how Sammy was fairing exiting the room. She heard furniture scrape the floor and then saw Sammy’s head poke through the opening. “I think this is going to be a tight fit.”
“Do you want me to pull on you?”
“I don’t think so,” Sammy said, groaning and grunting until his upper body was through. “Now I need you. I just need something to hold onto.”
Ruby served has his support as the rest of his bulky body popped through the opening and the both of them fell into the weeds.
“Are you alright?” Ruby asked.
He pulled up his shirt and saw red scrape marks on the side of his abdomen. “I’m fine.”
They stood up and looked at an area of lawn that had not been mowed in several years. It was obvious no one ever used this section of the lawn. Behind them and to the left was the mansion. To the right was a steep section of the beautifully manicured garden. And there before them was the monstrous monastery and the deteriorating inner wall.
“I’m sure we’ll find a way through it,” Sammy said. “I’m surprised they haven’t done anything to secure that wall, especially since they keep this place locked down like a prison.”
“I’m not,” Ruby said. “If no one can get through the outer wall, no one can get through the inner wall. Besides, the Vroloks are not the type of people to hire contractors to come inside the wards unless it was absolutely necessary. That explains why they didn’t want me roaming around the yard.”
“I’m glad they’re finicky about their privacy, that makes it easy for us to get inside,” Sammy said.
Ruby looked at the mansion, focusing specifically on the windows. “I think my room and Lord Andrei’s room are over there, so we’ll need to get through the wall quickly because they might be able to see us.”
“Okay then,” Sammy said. “Let’s head toward that ridge by the wall; it’ll help us stay out of sight.”
“Let’s do it.”
They ran across the abandoned yard, through stiff blue bachelor’s buttons that smacked at their legs like whips, before dropping over the shoulder of the embankment where only the most upper rooms of the mansion would be able to see them. They slid to a stop.
They both panted as they sat down on the tilted ground.
“I don’t want to alarm you,” Sammy said. “But there’s a snake over there.”
“I hate snakes,” Ruby said, backing away from where Sammy was pointing. “But considering where we’re at, I’m surprised they’re not all over the place.”
“Bite you tongue,” Sammy said.
They looked along the length of the stone wall, noticing several places along the slope where parts of the wall had crumbled into piles.
“It’s a long way down to the water,” Ruby said.
“Let’s try to climb through that area.” Sammy pointed to the first break in the wall.
Trying not to lose their footing they made their way to the gap in the wall where huge heavy rocks lay in heaps.
“How’d they even manage to build this?” Ruby said, climbing onto the stones.
“This wall has to be twenty feet high and ten feet thick,” Sammy said, climbing next to her. “I can’t imagine building something like this, especially on a slope.”
“I can see inside,” Ruby said, excited.
“I see snakes slithering around boulders along the ground,” Sammy said. “Don’t lose your footing.”
When they reached the toppled section of the wall, they looked through it. The monastery and cathedral were more massive than they appeared outside the wall. Everything about the dark stone structure emphasized verticality. So much so that it was dizzying to look up at the towers, pinnacles, and tall spires.
“Look at that ship with the sails,” Sammy said. “It makes me feel like I’m in another time.”
“I think they call that Castle Bay,” Ruby said. “What are they carrying out of that ship?”
“Boxes, long boxes,” Sammy said.
They looked at each other and at the same time said, “Vampire coffins.”
They watched as the coffins were loaded onto a platform and then hoisted up the side wall of the monastery to where people were moving them inside.
Ruby looked up at the dark and thickening clouds, feeling almost dizzy as she focused on the highest peaks of the castle where several giant birds circled the belfry before swooping inside and out of site.
“Looks like we might be able to get into the castle over there,” Sammy said, pointing toward a door further up the side of the building.
“That tower in the wall looks like the one I was in; the one connected to the mansion,” Ruby said. “The bad thing about using that door is that we might run into other people using it, too.”
“At least we know it’s a useable door,” Sammy said. He looked to where they were bringing in the coffins. “I certainly don’t want to use an entrance anywhere near where that stuff’s going on.”
“By the looks of those clouds, it’s going to start pouring rain,” Ruby said. “We’d better get going. I think we’re far enough away that we might not attract the attention of the people in the harbor.”
Sammy looked at Ruby. “By the time we’re done finding your brother, and your co-worker, I’ll be slim and trim.”
Ruby smiled. “You’re fine, Sammy. I like you just the way you are.”
“I’m not sure I believe you, but thanks,” he said, climbing forward through the thick wall.
They both climbed through the opening and ran to the door. When they reached it they stopped and looked around. It seemed that no one had seen them.
“Are you ready to do this?” Sammy said.
“Let’s do it.”
Sammy opened the door and stepped into the cool damp darkness. Further down the stone corridor, lights flickered and shadows moved along the walls. They looked at each other knowing that whatever was casting the shadows were not their friends, but there was no turning back now.