Mihovil had looked everywhere for his mother. This wasn’t like her. She always told him if she was going to the shops or popping into Vodnjan.
Not only was she not in the kitchen where she normally would be at this time in the day, but she had left the washing-up.
The work surface was littered with crumbs; peelings from the fruit she had prepared lay unattended and a fly had settled there.
This was so unlike his neat, orderly, organised parent.
He set about tidying the dishes, wiping the tops and putting things away. His mother had always told him, “When you are worried about anything, you should do something useful. It’ll chase away your fears and get your mind working properly on the problem.”
She was so right, so wise. As he briskly clattered and put things right his mind was getting ordered, too.
His quick intellect churned over, then a feeling of dread struck Mihovil, constricting his chest.
He thought of the way Makso had been acting lately, watching Mihovil and his mother. He’d got them to do endless tasks, finding extra work at the villa as if he feared them going out.
Thank goodness Makso was out of the way for once. Ivo had been ill, and he and Hiroko were upstairs with him. Might Mihovil’s mother’s disappearance have something to do with Makso’s increasing shiftiness?
Mihovil would have aired his suspicions with Mel, but he had already searched for her high and low, and she, too, was nowhere to be found.
His mind then switched, like a computer working its way through a programme, to some words his grandfather had said after taking Mel and her Italian boyfriend on his boat.
“How was it, Grandpapa? Did they have a nice time?”
“Yes, my boy, they saw the sunset and held hands. An old man can tell when a young couple are in love. But then it all changed when we went past the cove near the villa.
“The Italian man became very protective, drawing your friend Mel aside as if to shield her. He was watchful, like there was something going on there which might harm her.”
At the time Mihovil wrote off his grandfather’s musings as those of an old man with a romantic imagination. Now the words clanged in his ears like an alarm.
The cove, of course! Why was he fooling around here when his mother and Mel could be in danger?
He ran to get his jacket, jumped on his bicycle and started pedalling as fast as he could down the track, dust billowing out behind him, through the fields and down towards the sea.
* * * *
Greg, Cesare and Ryan marched out to Ryan’s hired car, careful not to run and attract attention.
In a sleepy town like Vodnjan, anything untoward – like three sharp-suited men, foreigners obviously on a mission – could have sparked comment which might have got back to Makso.
Anything that would alert him could not only scupper the operation which Greg had been working on for so many months, but might well endanger Mel.
Ryan manoeuvred the car out of the street and away from Vodnjan.
Cesare, unable to get an answer from Mel’s mobile, had phoned the villa and still got no reply.
“I think,” Greg had said, “that we should go to the cove and search those trulli houses openly. Knowing Mel, she may well have gone down to investigate herself. She’s not one to sit around doing nothing.
“Don’t worry, Cesare, she’ll be OK. It’s probably just that her mobile signal is bad from there.”
His words were unconvincing. Cesare was tense, his hands tightly gripped on his knees.
He channelled his detective training. Getting the facts straight would take his mind off the fact that the woman he planned to spend the rest of his life with was in serious danger.
“So, let me get this clear . . .” Cesare turned to Greg, “. . . Makso has been running not just a fine art business, but a skilled operation forging perfect copies of works of art.”