Con smiled in delight as she stepped off the little train that ran from Spartz to Briesau. She breathed in deeply, grinning at the smell of the clear mountain air. She had spent the last two weeks with Ricki Fry in London, and the heat of the city in the summer had been a little overbearing. But now she was back in the Tirol, ready to relax for the next fortnight, and think about the book she wanted to write.
Walking along the path towards Die Blumen, Con’s thoughts turned to the person with whom she would be sharing the holiday home. She hadn’t seen Roger Richardson since the previous Christmas, when he had joined the Maynards at Freudesheim during the vac. It would be nice to…
Con’s was interrupted abruptly as a small boy came careering round the corner and cannoned into her, knocking Con to the ground. Without saying a word, the child picked himself up, and carried on running. Con sat up, her face a picture of bemusement – a picture that changed slowly to anger as a man rushed round the same corner, clearly intent on reaching the boy. He made no move to help Con, merely changing his route slightly to avoid her presence in the middle of the path.
"Well!" she thought explosively. "What on earth is going on?" And with that, she picked herself up, and brushed down the cotton dress she had put on for the trip. "Oh, now I’m covered in dust. How Matey would grumble!" and she laughed involuntarily at the thought of that erstwhile woman’s reaction had one of the school’s pupils turned up in such a state. "She’d ream me seven ways from Sunday!"
Casting a glance over her shoulder down the path where the boy and man had disappeared, Con resumed her journey, dismissing the incident from her mind. Walking up the path to Die Blumen, Con noticed that the door was standing open. She approached it curiously.
"Roger? Are you in here?" There was no reply. "Roger?" Con crossed the threshold, and put down her hat and valise. She entered the salon, and looked around. There was nobody in sight, and the Holland covers were still covering the furniture, protecting it from the light film of dust over everything else. "Nobody’s been in here since the last time we had a holiday here," Con decided out loud, and went to try her luck in the kitchen. A similar sight greeted her eyes. The pantry door was open, displaying the shelves, empty but for a small heap of something on the floor. The old oak table was inches thick in dust, except for a few marks which had been made recently. Very recently, Con discovered as she went to take a closer look.
The door banged suddenly, then came the sound of a thump, followed by a muffled curse. Con gave a small cry at the bang, then, swallowing nervously, inched her way into the hall. "Hello? Who’s there?"
"Con! Why the devil did you leave your case right where someone’s bound to trip over it?" came the irritated reply. Con heaved a sigh of relief, and walked calmly into the hallway.
"I’m sorry, Roger, but the door was open when I got here, and I came in to investigate."
Roger frowned as he looked up to see Con. Her face was pale, and she looked worried. "It probably wasn’t anything," he reassured her. "The wind might have blown it open." Seeing that the young woman wasn’t convinced, he quickly changed the subject. "How’s the family?"
Con’s face grew animated as she described the fracas Mike had instigated at school, and the resulting punishment that Jack Maynard had meted out. "And of course, there’s Len’s wedding. Mamma and Auntie Madge are planning it with military precision!" They carried on talking as Roger brought his luggage in, and the two retired to their respective rooms to unpack. Con was in the middle of unloading all the paper she had brought with her, when there was a knock at the door. She hung over the bannister as Roger answered it.
"Gruss Gott, Herr Richardson!" came a cheerful voice. "I had heard that you and Fraulein Con were to be here for a while, so I came to see that you had everything you need."
"Herr Braun!" cried Con, coming down the stairs. "How lovely to see you! Mamma sends her regards. She says that she and Papa will probably be down here before the end of the summer." She escorted the worthy owner of the Kron Prinz Karl into the salon, and apologised for the state. "We’ve only just arrived, you see, and everything’s still in a dreadful mess. I’ll probably be doing housework all the time I’m here, just to get it sorted out!" She went out to make tea, and left the two men talking away.
"I had another reason to come to see you," uttered Herr Braun, mysteriously, as Con left the room. "I did not like to say it in front of Fraulein Con, but there is some trouble in the Valley at the moment." Roger looked at the hotel proprietor in amazement.
"Trouble? Whatever do you mean? Not political, surely?"
"Nein, nein. But there are thieves in the area; bandits. They are much cause for concern."
"I see," Roger nodded slowly, as he cast his mind back to Con’s words earlier. "What have the police done?" Herr Braun spread his hands in a display of annoyance.
"Ha! The police! They can do nothing. Every time the rogues strike they are too late. And they have no idea where they are hiding out. It is a mystery." As the clattering of tea crocks grew nearer, the visitor leant forward confidentially. "It would be a good idea to keep an eye out, yes?
After Herr Braun had left, Con and Roger settled in properly; Roger uncovering the furniture and manhandling anything that needed doing, while Con dusted and swept, and made the rooms fit for habitation. When it was time for supper, the two exhausted friends collapsed in a heap in the salon.
"Ouff!" grunted Roger as he swiped at his forehead with a handkerchief. "Your furniture weighs a ton, Con."
"Never mind the furniture! I never want to see another feather duster as long as I live." She sat up unwillingly. "I suppose I’d better get some tea. We don’t want to starve to death"
"I’ll help," offered Roger, and they went to the kitchen in search of the crumpets Con had brought on her way.
"I put them in the pantry…oh!" Roger poked his head around the door, and saw Con staring curiously at a piece of cloth in her hand.
"What on earth have you got there?" he demanded. She turned to look at him, her delicate features creased with concern.
"It’s a shirt. You didn’t…I don’t suppose you unpacked in the pantry?" She laughed feebly.
"No, of course not. Don’t worry about it, Con. It’s probably just left over from the last time someone was here. You know how careless those brothers of yours are when it comes to their clothes. Just shove it back, and we’ll have tea." Con acquiesced, but her gaze kept being drawn back to the closed door of the pantry.
The following day, Con awoke at dawn. The early morning sun streamed through her window, and she gave a contented smile as she snuggled further into the duvet. "It’s so nice to be back here," she thought to herself happily. "Switzerland’s lovely, and living in Oxford was nice, but there’s nowhere quite like the Tirol." Feeling full of energy, she leapt out of bed, and washed and dressed quickly. She ran quietly downstairs, careful not to wake Roger – "Though likely enough he’s asleep and snoring loudly enough to wake the dead" – and went to open the front door. It was locked.
She frowned, confused. They never locked the door – there wasn’t any reason to. And she hadn’t done it, so why had Roger? Hunting around, she found the key on the hall table, and opened the door. Pausing to leave a note for Roger, she walked out into sun.
Roger awoke suddenly, and sat bolt upright, as he usually did. Dragging on his dressing gown, he wandered downstairs. He noticed Con’s note on the hall table and picked it up, reading it as he went into the kitchen. "Roger – I’ve gone for a walk down to the lake. I’ll be back for fruhstucke – Con." He made himself some coffee, then went back upstairs to have a bath. Leaving the bathroom ten minutes later, he heard a noise downstairs.
"Con, I’ll be down in a minute. Why don’t you start brekkers?" he called. There was no reply. "Con?" Perturbed at the lack of response, he clutched the towel round him, and went back down the broad staircase. "Hallo, Con!" Still no reply. Picking up one of Jo’s old umbrellas that was languishing in the hat stand, he went in each of the ground floor rooms, brandishing the brolly in front of him. There wasn’t a soul in sight. He humphed, then went to return the umbrella to its rightful place.
Con had spent a lovely morning so far, and when she entered the house the last thing she expected to see was Roger waving an umbrella at her. "Roger Richardson! What are you doing?" Roger looked at the indignant young woman in front of him, and blushed.
"I…I, er…" he trailed off. He wasn’t going to tell her that he thought he’d heard an intruder – no jolly fear! The poor kid had been shaken enough by finding the door open when she arrived, not to mention the shirt in the pantry. Neither was he going to tell her Herr Braun’s news. He’d spoken to his ex-guardian on the ‘phone a few days before coming to Austria, and Jack had warned him to keep an eye on Con, if possible.
"She’s been going at her job as a feature writer hammer and tongs since she graduated. Jo and I are concerned that she might be overdoing it – and you know how hot London can get in the summer. Make sure she doesn’t do anything daft. That lot are just like Jo – if there’s trouble around, they’ll find it!" With Jack’s words in mind, Roger tried to make light of what he’d been doing, then, when he saw that his explanations were having little effect on a sceptical Con, he mumbled something incoherent and disappeared back up the stairs and into his room.
Grinning in mirth at the picture Roger had made with his towel wrapped round him toga style and wielding Mamma’s umbrella, Con started preparing breakfast.
"Eggs all right with you, Roger?" she shouted.
"Fine," came the reply. "As long as they’re not boiled." A minute later he appeared in the doorway. The two ate their breakfast in a companionable silence, until Roger broke in to ask, "What are you planning to do today?"
"I thought I’d go into Innsbruck. I need some stuff, and I don’t fancy waiting all hols."
"Okay. Mind if I come?" Con didn’t, and an hour later saw them well on their way. Wandering round Innsbruck, Roger watched Con with amusement. He was so used to seeing her as the triplet with her head in the clouds it was strange to watch as she did business with the local shopkeepers. Very efficient, was Con. As she conducted a spirited argument with one particularly garrulous old man, he couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Con looked at him curiously as they left the shop, her newest acquisition tucked under her arm. "What’s the joke?"
"Nothing. It was just seeing you being so…so grown up. It’s difficult to look at you and see the kid who said that Daniel ate the lions." Con went bright red, and grimaced.
"Nobody’s ever going to let me forget that, are they?"
"I don’t think so."
"It’s so unfair," she continued. "I was only a junior."
"Doesn’t matter," Roger replied briefly. "Do you think Evadne Lannis is ever going to live down the St Clare’s orchestra?" Con burst out laughing at his reminder of that particular event in the school’s history.
"I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much as I did when Mamma showed us that photograph. We all howled," she said reminiscently. "And when everyone from the Dark Ages came to Mamma’s reunion, they still all talked about it!"
As they turned the corner onto the main thoroughfare, Con stopped suddenly, her gaze arrested by the sight of someone just ahead. As she stared at the man who had rushed by her the previous day in pursuit of the small boy, he turned round, and looked right at her. Roger, noticing Con’s fixated eyes, looked around to see what had caught her attention. Seeing the tall, young foreigner, the man dropped his eyes, and hurried into the crowd.
"Con? Who was that?" Con shrugged her shoulders dismissively.
"Just a man I saw yesterday. I was on the path walking to the house, when a boy rushed round the corner and knocked me down. Then that man came chasing after him. That’s all. Have you got everything you need? We’ll have to get a move on if you haven’t – the last train back’s at seventeen hundred." Roger followed her, uneasily remembering the strange man’s sullen expression. Someone had definitely been in the Maynards’ holiday home before he and Con had arrived. And it seemed awfully coincidental that all this was happening at the very same time that a gang of thieves was in the area. He wondered whether he ought to telephone Jack, then decided against it. There wasn’t anything the older man could do, and it would only worry him and Jo.