Mihovil lay flat as a snake, his gaze fixed on a massive man who paced up and down, his five o’clock shadow and watching eyes making him look like a nightclub bouncer.
Why would a man like that be hanging around here, Mihovil wondered, unless he was guarding something? Or somebody?
Should he confront the man? Should he telephone the police? What would he tell them?
That he had vague suspicions and that his mother had been missing for all of two hours? They would tell him to stop bothering them.
It was as these questions were whirling like a tornado in his mind that Mihovil heard a phone ring and watched as the man took his out of his pocket.
“No, they haven’t made a sound. I will go and look,” the man said.
Mihovil’s hair stood up on the back of his neck, and his mouth became dry as a desert.
The man swung round and went towards the closest trulli house. Taking a key out of his pocket, he put it in the lock and disappeared inside.
Tense minutes passed. Time stood still. Mihovil’s senses were on edge.
Suddenly, Mihovil heard a woman’s cry. Instinctively he shot up out of the grass, breaking cover. As he did, he heard footsteps crunch on the path behind him.
There was Greg, Cesare and another guy hurtling towards him. Mihovil didn’t know what to do.
All he knew was the woman’s cry might have come from Mel or his mother, so he ran, half falling, arms flailing, towards the trulli house.
* * * *
On hearing the key in the door, Mel and Severina had lain like statues under their covers.
Mel’s heart beat so wildly against her ribs she was sure its thumping would betray her.
One eye shielded by her arm, partially open, she sneaked a look at the man. He looked more brawn than brain. He scuffed his feet, looking bored.
Having peered at the two women and decided they were still unconscious, he sighed, turned his back on them, took out a cigarette and proceeded to light it.
The tension running through Mel was nearly unbearable. The door, their escape route, was wide open. His guard was down.
Suddenly, deep in her stomach, Mel felt a nausea so acute she knew her body wanted to rid her of the last of the sleeping draught Makso had administered.
If she didn’t stretch her cramped body, if she didn’t breathe deeply, she knew she’d be sick and give them away.
She had to do something.
On impulse, she shot out of bed and thrust her foot with all the power she could muster into the back of the guard’s knee. He toppled like a collapsed easel to the floor.
Suddenly, Mihovil appeared. In a flash, the boy grabbed the heavy door and whacked it with a sharp crack into the stunned guard’s head.
Before Mel knew what was happening, men arrived, yelling at the top of their voices in Italian and English.
Everything was a blur, then Cesare was at her side.
“Mel, are you OK?”
There was a tangle of arms and legs and shouting. Greg and Ryan scuffled with the guard.
What was Ryan doing here? Mel was confused, but grateful. Mihovil was comforting his mother.
Most blissfully of all, the excitement had stopped Mel from being sick.
When Cesare gathered her in her arms she had never felt better. Never more secure, never more relieved to see anyone.
* * * *
Back at the Villa Lavanda, Mel and Severina were left to wait in the car with Mihovil while Greg, Cesare and Ryan swooped on the house.
The detectives caught Makso as he ran into the driveway, scrambling to make his escape. The game was up and he knew it.
Mel’s head was now together. All the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. How both Greg and Ryan had been undercover all along, and had played their parts like actors on a stage.
Severina had suspected something and had tried to warn Mel by throwing those notes asking for help.
Mihovil knew his father was under Makso’s thumb, but didn’t know the whole story. Her own beloved Cesare had been sucked into the mystery and had fought to save her.
Mel, Severina and Mihovil were sent in to help comfort Hiroko. She was as stunned as anyone to find out her controlling husband was a criminal.
Willingly, she gave a full statement to Cesare. As Mel hugged Hiroko, Severina cradled the baby.
Mel was touched by how sensitive Cesare was when questioning Makso’s wife.
What’s more, he explained how Makso had lied to Hiroko about the status of her marriage. It had been legal and she could stay in Croatia.
“I have seen bullies like him before. Most of us are honest, but his sort lie to further their own ends.
“Like butterflies trapped in their webs we find ourselves struggling and then giving up. Do not be defeated, Mrs Yurcich. Think of your little son; he needs you to be strong.”
* * * *