This is Part 4 of a Serial Story. The story began here.
I threw off my blazer and opened the blinds in my office, spun my desk chair around to face the sun and sank into the chair with a groan.
My phone intercom buzzed. “What is it,” I snapped.
“There is a phone call for you, Maryanne. A Dr. Absola Trotsky,” said Ms. Ibsen.
“You’re screening my calls?” I asked in disbelief.
“To help you.”
I clenched my fist at the woman’s condescending tone. In the same moment I realized that an anagram for Rottweiler is ‘rile wet rot.’ I might be damp, but I wasn’t all wet and I definitely wasn’t rot. No way I’d let Ibsen rile me. “Put the call through, please,” I said pleasantly.
Dr. Absola Trotsky…doesn't ring a bell. I picked up the receiver. “Hello,” I said.
“So, it is as you always planned. You are an attorney. Congratulations now are acceptable? Or perhaps too belated. But I am happy for your success.”
That voice…of course! “Absy! It’s been years! I can’t believe your calling me,” I said.
“When your summer in my country ended you told me I must look you up if I was ever in your part of the United States. I call old number and your mother answered. She is a very nice lady.”
“Wait, you’re in town? That’s fantastic! We should meet for dinner and catch up.”
“Excellent. I have recommendation of restaurant from man at front desk of hotel. Restaurant is called Shank’s.”
The restaurant owned by the older brother of Matt’s boss? “I don’t know, Absola. It’s a great restaurant, but the man who owns it may associate me with pain and suffering brought down on his family. It wouldn’t make for great dinner atmosphere.”
“Do I speak to Maryanne? The woman who confronted a corrupt mayor in his own dining hall, ripping the turkey leg from his hand and demanding the missing corpses be returned to their families?”
“I remember you taking away the turkey leg, not me.”
“Ah, so it is Maryanne after all! Then you will not allow the opinion of others to affect your dinner plans. Maryanne keeps the opinion of others filed away, nice and neat. She does not allow such things to direct the course of her life.”
I laughed. “Absola, you are a breath of fresh air. What time do you want to meet?”
“I will meet you at the bar at 7.”
“First topics of conversation should be the ‘Dr.’ and the 'Trotsky' in Dr. Absola Trotsky,” I said.
“You are not the only one who enjoys academic success. As for the Trotsky...what is life without love? Until tonight, my friend!”
Abolsa…just hearing her voice took me back…
I wanted two things while I was in college. One, to be the youngest person ever to graduate from the university. Two, to spend a summer in a really cool study abroad program. The first goal I knew could be achieved, but I doubted my chances of the second. How could I convince my parents that I was mature enough to go abroad for an entire summer?
I was thorough. I carefully researched all my options and put together a thoughtful and eloquent presentation. And it worked! My parents agreed to let me do a summer study abroad as long as they chose the location.
That’s how I ended up spending a summer in Romania. And Romania was where I met Absola.
Fair skinned with black hair and dark eyes, Absola’s physical appearance made her the perfect tour guide for the Transylvania region of Romania. She also knew more European history and folklore than most of the professors in charge of the study abroad program. But I learned all that later. The first time I saw her she was mocking a tourist trap, or so I thought.
The official tour guide for the study abroad program – Rick – had taken a group of us on a tour of the historic Citadel part of Sighisoara. Sighisoara is the reputed birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Dracula. The Citadel portion of the city is about as medieval as you can get. The shops are built close together, with sharply sloping roofs. The streets are made of ancient cobblestones and wind their way up the hillside. From the top of the historic clock tower you can stare out across the town and see the roof tops of the town peeking up through the trees, blue mountains calling you in the distance.
The town celebrates being the birthplace of Dracula with a kind of quiet pride. There's a statue of him near town hall, and the house where he was born is marked with a plaque. And someone decided to capitalize on the whole 'vampire' bit by opening a stake shop. One stop shoping for all your vampire slaying needs.
About the same time my tour group entered the stake shop Absola walked past leading a tour group of her own. Her eyes met mine briefly as she passed. I saw a flash of derision in her eyes and it made me smile.
I really thought it was silly to take people to a shop where a man hand carved stakes for killing vampires. Vampires, I thought, aren’t real. A stake shop? Really? Talk about a tourist trap! So I understood if a tour guide like Absola thought it was silly.
Rick openly mocked the place, or at least the members of our group who bought souvenir stakes. But he avoided the stake carver while we were in the shop and seemed a little scared of the man.
Turned out that I was wrong about a lot of things. Vampires are real. The stake carver was a bonafide vampire hunter. Absola was his niece and she was taking her tour groups past his shop as part of a carefully planned stake out.
Absola and her uncle were working together to track down a rogue vampire who was threatening the population of Sighisoara, Mures County, and pretty much all of Central Romania. The vamp was freakishly charismatic. She was recruiting living people to act as her servants in the daylight hours. And she was targeting hunters like the stake carver.
Rick was a servant of the vampire. He took our group into the stake carver’s shop to get the lay of the land. The instant Absola saw Rick she knew that he was plotting the death of her uncle…and she knew he would fail. The look of derision I saw was directed at Rick, not the shop.
I learned a lot that summer. I learned that a strong man like the stake carver can survive a fall from the top of a three story building. I learned, watching Absola, that if you’re going to stake a vampire it has to be through the heart…if you miss with the stake, be ready to cut off the head. And I learned from hitting Rick in the face that using a closed fist to punch somebody really hurts…me.
Study abroad programs can be very educational.
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