When Cesare got back to his bedroom in Vodnjan he wasted no time in speaking to his boss.
“I am very grateful, sir,” he ended up, “for you agreeing to give me time to pursue this case covertly. You won’t regret it.”
“Don’t step on any toes of our Croatian friends,” was the reply. “Remember you don’t have any jurisdiction there. We can unearth things, and I have heard for some time that there is corruption in the local force, but go carefully.
“People with money have friends in high places. You will have to act quickly. I fear things will be moving very fast now.”
Cesare knew that only too well as he got out his notebook and made detailed notes of everything Mel had told him.
If she heeded his warning and didn’t set a foot out of line, she could stay safe. The trouble was, he knew her feisty nature.
Late though it was, he phoned his young colleague Tomasso back in Sorrento and instructed him to run further checks on those at the Villa Lavanda.
It was just as he was putting the phone down that it vibrated in his hand, this time ringing with an unknown number.
“You don’t know me. My name is Greg Brodie. I was signalling to you this evening. I think from the way you withdrew your boat, you understood my message.”
Cesare’s eyes narrowed. This could be the breakthrough he needed to keep Mel from danger. His heart beat like a woodpecker on a tree trunk.
“Good. I need to explain things, and I need to set up a meeting with you and a colleague of mine. Can you meet me at the back of the church in Vodnjan first thing tomorrow?”
* * * *
It was a bright sunny morning and Mihovil had had a dreadful night’s sleep. On waking early, he decided he could wait no longer to approach Makso about his father’s debt.
His father had been so tense lately. Even Mihovil’s grandfather had asked him yesterday when they were waiting by the boat at Fazana harbour.
“What is wrong with your papa? I am worried about him. One minute he is morose and brooding, the next he is twitchy and jumpy. He will not tell me what is wrong.”
Mihovil knew it. He had even heard his mother and father having words through the walls the other night, and they never argued.
So this morning he had decided to go to the Villa before breakfast and ask for a word with Makso.
His heart was pounding as he knocked on the door of Makso’s office. Always an early riser, Mihovil knew Makso had been at his desk for hours.
Even so, today his eyes looked even more hooded than normal.
“What is it you want? I have much on my mind.”
Mihovil had rehearsed this meeting a hundred times.
“I have come to speak to you about my father.”
“What about him?”
“I know he is afraid of you, and I know why.”
Makso’s mouth moved into a sneer.
“And he has asked you to come here, the brave avenging son, to save him from his obligations because he is too feeble to sort out his own problems.”
Mihovil felt his hackles rising to hear his father mocked.
“He hasn’t asked me at all. He hasn’t breathed a word to me about the debt you placed him under or the secrets you share together.”
“Then if he hasn’t told you, who has?” As Makso came round the desk to stand over Mihovil, the boy felt his bravado evaporate. “It’s your mother, isn’t it? You and Severina are very close. Has she been plotting against me?
“Who else has she involved? Like rotten worms in the centre of an apple, you and others are trying to destroy me.”
“No, she’s got nothing to do with my coming here today. I haven’t spoken a word to her, I only found out by –”
But Makso raised his hand and wouldn’t hear any more. He spoke through gritted teeth.
“Get out of my sight. I can bear your treachery no longer.”
However much Mihovil tried to put his case, Makso wouldn’t listen. He was even more dictatorial than usual.
Mihovil, deep in despair, left as he had been ordered. What had he done? Surely he hadn’t now got his poor mother into trouble? He couldn’t bear that.