Mel showered and dressed ready to go to Rovinj.
As she was drying her hair, she suddenly heard a clunk on the balcony. She put down the dryer, looked out, and there, as plain as day, was a large pebble tied with a note.
She would have rushed down then and there to see who had thrown it, but all she had wrapped round her was a towel. By the time she’d put something decent on and got round to the back of the house, the person would have been long gone.
“Hello, is there anybody there?”
She didn’t want to shout loudly and worry whoever was trying to communicate with her, especially if it was Hiroko. But it couldn’t be her, could it? Mel remembered she was out with Makso.
Mel peered into the trees and shrubs. Everything lay still and silent under the baking sun. She picked the note up.
Wednesday evening at dusk, by the trulli houses. Take care; there is danger.
She turned it over. That was it. The note didn’t make much sense. What was going on at the trulli houses? If she wanted answers, she must go.
She needed to share the information with someone. She decided the only person she would tell would be Ryan.
He had become her confidante, dependable, always looking out for her, and she was off to see him now. He’d know what to do.
She would have chosen Cesare, but he wasn’t here where it was all happening. He’d be visiting soon, but for now Ryan was her trusted friend.
* * * *
Mel took the bus to Rovinj. It was like entering another world. The cobbled streets were so narrow, some of them barely wide enough for a horse and small cart. They twisted and turned delightfully.
Terracotta roofs bent into each other like old ladies, foreheads touching, sharing secrets. Peeling sand-coloured walls were dotted with shutters. Their shades of sky blue, mustard yellow and racing green lit the town with colour.
Above her head, assorted washing, vests, shorts and pillowcases waved in greeting like gaily coloured bunting.
Mel hurried to the harbour to meet Ryan. As she did, she passed arched steps going steeply down to the sea. In her guidebook she’d read Rovinj was once an island.
These steps led to delivery points where boats bobbed up against the houses, bringing supplies direct to cellars nestling above the waves.
Centuries ago, these shops would have sold oils, olives, perfumes, rich fabrics and mediaeval cures. This was still a place of bustling commerce. Its trade now, though, was jewellery and trendy driftwood art for cruise-ship passengers.
Ryan was waiting at a bar on the quayside, coffee in hand. He got up and waved, looking so pleased to see her it made her heart soar.
“My, you look gorgeous. White is definitely your colour and you’re getting a tan – it suits you.”
Mel blushed. She’d been brought up in a family where hard work and serious application were the name of the game.
She’d never heard her father compliment her mother’s green-eyed beauty, though he often complimented her on how spick and span she kept the house.
Mel was a feisty, independent woman, yet it didn’t stop her glowing to hear she was appreciated for her looks.
In her days as a nanny, most of her acquaintances were female so any attention was a new and welcome departure for her.
“What do you think of Rovinj? Cute, isn’t it?”
He dusted off a seat for her.
“It’s one of the great seafaring ports. Pilots from here were experts in escorting ships to the Venice lagoon. It’s still a proper fishing port. That fine-looking ship over there is the Pride.” He pointed to a smart cruise liner, its many windows twinkling in the sun. “Any minute now, Joshua and his wife Kaylee will be coming down those steps to join us for coffee.
“Kaylee spent the morning shopping in Rovinj and then had to go back to the ship for a nap. I dropped the fingerprinted things off to Joshua as soon as you gave them to me this morning.”
Mel was desperate to show Ryan the new note and chat about what it meant. But something made her hold back.