“Turn you in?”
Greg held out his hand and helped Hiroko up.
“Come on, this is no place to talk things over. Come back to the house.”
Mel supported Hiroko, who held the baby, as the three of them walked in silence, each thinking their own separate thoughts.
As they stepped into the Villa, Hiroko sat down on one of the plush sofas, motionless, as if paralysed with fear. Baby Ivo slept in her arms.
“Have you made a decision?” she finally asked, staring at Greg Brodie.
He seemed to be weighing things up in his mind.
“And leave little Ivo here in the care of that nurse and Makso?” he replied, his chin determined. “What good would that do the poor little mite?”
For a second, Mel detected not just dislike of Makso in Greg’s tone, but something bordering on hatred. What had Makso done to generate such high emotions from a practical, straightforward guy like Greg, she wondered.
Hiroko’s body visibly relaxed, the lines on her forehead smoothing. She rocked Ivo and held back tears of gratitude.
“Thank you so much. I am a bad woman, I know it. Makso, he tells me so.”
Mel felt anger rise in her belly. She put her arm round Hiroko’s shoulders to comfort her.
“That’s nonsense. From what I’ve seen, Hiroko, you don’t have a bad bone in your body. I have seen the photos of you and Makso in Vodnjan Church with your beautiful white dress and veil. I really can’t see why you would be an illegal alien.”
Hiroko turned her face downwards, too ashamed to look them in the eye.
“I was so happy that day, before things turned bad. Makso, he tells me I am illegal, just two months after that wonderful ceremony in church. I wanted to go into Pula, I had learned there was a club, a small gathering of Vietnamese women like me, far from home.
“I had just learned I was pregnant and I was missing my mother and family so badly,” she continued. “I was happy to have found this group on the internet. They seemed good people; they have a mission.
“They help many of the poor women who are trafficked from my country into Europe. Women who are tricked by horrible men who promise them jobs and work but then use them very badly.
“I am now a wealthy woman, married to a rich man and I wanted to help those poor girls, too. Back in my own country I had a job. I looked after elderly people; it was good work.
“To help those girls in this strange country would take my mind off my loneliness here. I thought Makso would be pleased for me to have an interest. Instead he got angry and shouted.”
Hiroko took a deep breath, trying to compose herself.
“He said I was ungrateful and should have enough here to keep me happy in this beautiful house with him. That’s when he lost his temper and told me we are not legally married. He said we only had a church ceremony, not a civil ceremony.
“There were so many people when we got married, and all speaking Croatian. How was I to know? I would never have broken the law willingly. I have been a stupid and bad woman.”
Mel made a pot of tea and managed to get Hiroko to eat a toasted bun. Then the two women put Ivo in his cradle and Hiroko sank into bed to sleep.
When Mel came down, Greg was sitting at the kitchen table, deep in thought.
“There’s something odd going on here,” Mel began. “Why would Makso not go through the proper motions to marry Hiroko legally? It doesn’t make sense.”
Greg cast her a glance she found difficult to read, but wasn’t offering any solutions.
“I have a friend – my previous employer – he’s a very good lawyer. I’m going to ask him to help Hiroko.”
“Don’t do that!” Greg said, his voice hard. “Don’t get involved.”
It made Mel jump, but her sense of injustice had been aroused. Just because Greg couldn’t be bothered, or was too protective of his own job, didn’t mean she couldn’t help Hiroko.
Without saying any more, Mel went upstairs with a determined step to get ready for her meeting with Cesare. She wasn’t afraid of Makso, although she was beginning to wonder if she was the only person in this house who wasn’t.
* * * *