Romantic Road

By: Blair McDowell


“Where is it? Just tell us where it is and you won’t get hurt.” The taller man loomed over her, his face expressionless, a mask.

“Where is what? What are you talking about? Who are you?” Lacy began to be annoyed. That was better than being scared. “Can I see your badges again?”

The second man stared hard at her though dead-looking flat grey eyes. “Mrs. Telchev”—his voice was low and menacing—“we mean you no harm. But you must tell us where your husband hid his manuscript.”

They knew her name? Icy tentacles slipped down Lacy’s back. She shook her head. “What manuscript? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

At that moment the red-and-white lights of a state police vehicle rounded the curve coming toward them. Seeing the blocked road, it stopped. Two uniformed officers got out and approached the parked cars.

“You’re blocking the road. What’s the trouble here?”

The taller man spoke. “No trouble, Officer. Sorry about the way we’re parked. I’ll move the car immediately. The lady was pulled over here, and we just stopped to see if she needed help.”

He flipped open his wallet and showed the officers the same ID he’d shown Lacy.

It seemed to mean something to the policemen.

Lacy opened her mouth to say something and then thought better of it. What could she tell the police? These men wanted a manuscript from her, but she didn’t know where it was? Or what it was about? Or even if it existed? That it involved her dead husband? No. She wouldn’t say anything. Not until she knew.






Acknowledgements


Many thanks to soprano Donna Ellen, of the Vienna Opera, for the private backstage tour she gave me of that venerable opera house and for her answers to my many questions as they arose in the course of writing this novel.

Thanks also to my dear Hungarian friends, the Czeller family, in whose home in Budapest and vineyard and wine cave on Lake Balaton I have been welcomed as a guest many times.

To all the innkeepers and hotel concierges and shopkeepers and waiters who so willingly answered my endless and tiresome questions about their cities and towns, thank you.

I am indebted to Jeanette Panagapka for her encouragement and reading and rereading of this book before I submitted it for publication, and to Sherry Royal for her on-going help in marketing.

Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to my wonderful Wild Rose editor, Johanna Melaragno, whose insightful suggestions made Romantic Road a much better book, and to Diana Carlile for her great cover design.





Prologue


The day was an unrelenting grey. Trees not yet in leaf on this late March morning stood framed as stark skeletons against the backdrop of the surrounding city. The rain, though hardly more than a mist, was cold and penetrating.

Three people huddled close together under one large black umbrella. Jane, her best friend, wept softly, clinging to Lacy, whose husband Igor was about to be lowered into the earth. Igor’s attorney, Richard, was stony faced. Lacy held herself rigid, straight and tall. She wanted to cry, to feel something, anything, but somehow the tears just would not come. There was a hollowness deep inside her that left her unable to cry, unable to feel. Odd. She had cried so frequently during these last two years. But what was left to cry for? Igor was gone, irretrievably lost. There would never be a chance to make things right between them now. Her sense of desolation was beyond tears.

In keeping with Russian Orthodox tradition, the grave site faced east. The coffin was suspended over the open grave, ready to be lowered at the signal.

Lacy listened without really hearing, as the priest, dressed in black cassock with a large gold cross on a heavy chain around his neck, intoned the words of the burial service. Numbly she fixed her eyes on the long black scarf covering his traditional, high cylindrical hat as it fluttered in the wind. He uttered the last prayer of the service, “Zemle rosztupysia.” Be open, oh earth, and receive the body which has been created out of you. He took a hand full of soil and sprinkled it on the coffin in the shape of a cross.

Lacy stepped forward and placed a single long-stemmed purple iris on the coffin. Igor had loved irises. Jane and Richard followed, each in turn placing an iris on his casket.

Stepping back, Lacy nodded. She watched as the coffin was lowered slowly into its final resting place, and two workmen who had been standing in the background began to shovel the earth over it.

Lacy shivered as she heard the first clods strike the coffin. Taking a deep breath, she approached the priest and spoke to him in Russian. “Thank you, Father Zacchaeus. It was important to Igor that he be given a Russian Orthodox burial.”

The priest nodded. “I understand. In the end, we all return to our roots.” He placed a hand gently on her arm. “Bless you, my child.”

Richard appeared at her side and putting his arm around her shoulders, led her away as the grave was closed. Jane was waiting in the limousine.

At the car, Lacy turned to look one last time at the grave. Two rather ominous-looking men dressed in dark raincoats, with hats pulled low over their brows, stood under a clump of trees nearby. They appeared to have been observing the graveside service. Who were they? If they had known Igor, wouldn’t they have spoken to her? As she stared at them, they turned and left.

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