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Authors: Iris Danbury

Doctor at Villa Ronda

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DOCTOR AT VILLA RONDA

by

IRIS DANBURY

Nicola usually ignored her sister's wild suggestions, but this one had come at the perfect time. Lisa had asked Nicola to join her in Barcelona. A few days after receiving the letter, Nicola arrived in Spain to discover that her sister had mysteriously disappeared -- six weeks before she had written
.

 

CHAPTER I

Nicola
was completely unable to understand the situation.
A
slim girl above average height, with light brown hair and intensely blue eyes, she stood now in the vestibule of the block of flats, trying to decide on her next step.

It was disconcerting enough to arrive in Barcelona and fail to find her sister, Lisa, either at the airport or the city terminal to meet her, but to come now by taxi to Lisa’s address only to be told that the English
senorita
had left the flat some days ago was bewildering.

“Do you know when she will return?” Nicola had asked the woman in the neighbouring flat. The woman shook her head and shrugged, leaving Nicola uncertain as to whether her question had been understood.

Again she checked the address Lisa had given her. There might be other English girls living in the same block.

The only alternative now seemed to be to find a hotel in Barcelona and hope that Lisa would return very soon.

Her thoughts were almost completely occupied with anxiety about Lisa’s mysterious absence, yet Nicola could not fail to appreciate the wide expanse of sapphire sea under a cloudless sky, the dazzling new promenade and blocks of
modern
flats that had replaced the old unsightly wharves and warehouses along the sea-front.

As soon as a vacant taxi appeared, Nicola handed the driver her one suitcase and told him to take her to one of the well-known travel agencies, where she explained her situation.

“My sister is probably away on business,” she said. “I can’t get into her flat, of course, so perhaps you’d recommend me to an inexpensive hotel for a night or two.”

She produced her passport and after a few minutes the clerk told her that a room was booked in her name at a small, comfortable hotel just off the main Rambla.

In the privacy of her hotel, Nicola changed out of her travelling suit, freshened her make-up and put on a lightweight blue dress.

She read again Lisa’s recent letter.

“...
Why don’t you give up your work and come here? You could easily take over my job. It bores me, but you’d probably like it. In any case I’m leaving soon. I’ve had a modelling job offered me and that sounds much more fun ... at least come here for a week or so and see how you like Spain..
.

Nicola had not seen her younger sister for nearly a year and Lisa wrote at irregular intervals, but this particular letter had come at a crucial point in Nicola’s own career.

The firm where she worked as secretary to the assistant manager had been taken over by a larger concern, her boss had found himself a position elsewhere and Nicola had to work for three men instead of one. From a comparatively peaceful, responsible position she had been pitchforked into an atmosphere of haste and chaos where each of her three bosses clamoured for his own work to be done first, testily interrupting her before she could finish each task.

Nicola was not in the habit of accepting Lisa’s usually wild suggestions, but this time she had acted on impulse and replied that she had given notice and would come to Barcelona for two or three weeks.


.
.
. perhaps I needed this shake-up” (she wrote to her sister) “to get me out of a rut. I’m sure I can get another job when I come back
...”

Lisa’s reply, dated only a week ago, had been brief, merely asking when Nicola would arrive. Nicola had already sent this information before Lisa’s second letter arrived.

But now, with Lisa’s non-appearance, Nicola was not sure how long she could stay in Barcelona. She calculated the cost of her hotel room, added what she imagined to be the price of meals, a few pounds for minimum sightseeing, and reached the conclusion that she could probably manage something under a fortnight.

Surely during that time she would be able to contact Lisa,

It now occurred to her that Lisa might be ill and helpless in the flat with no one to attend her. The neighbour might be wrong in believing that the English girl had gone away.

Nicola found the telephone number of the block and asked to be put through to Senorita Brettell’s apartment, as Lisa’s name was not in the directory.

There was no reply to Nicola’s call and after half an hour she tried again with no result. Then what about the firm for whom Lisa worked? That was where she was most likely to be. She had merely changed her home address.

Nicola now realised that she did not know the name of her sister’s employers, except that they were wine-shippers and had an English-sounding name. Even if Lisa had already changed her job, they might know where she had gone.

By the time Nicola had found a local post office and hunted through a classified trades directory the time was past seven o’clock, but she tried two of the most likely firms, knowing that Spanish working hours are usually later than English because of the long afternoon siesta.

Neither firm had ever employed a Miss Brettell, they said.

Dispirited, puzzled and hungry, Nicola decided that a good dinner might revive her. After a meal in a small restaurant facing the Rambla Capuchinos, she strolled across to the wide tree-lined centre of the Ramblas where, it seemed, half the population of Barcelona was m
illing
about, hurrying, strolling, buying newspapers at the kiosks,
lottery tickets, drinking coffee at tables grouped under the trees.

She paused to watch an artist at his easel surrounded by a small knot of bystanders. She compared his canvas replica with the long vista of plane trees in their fresh May foliage, the darkening sky, street lamps pricking the distant dusk, the hurrying or leisurely figures, now caught by the painter in a moment of arrested motion. He seemed unconcerned by onlookers or their comments.

Nicola was luckier next day in her enquiries, for when she telephoned the only likely firm on her list, an English voice answered.

“Yes, there was a Miss Brettell here, but she left some time ago,” the man said.

“Some time ago?” Nicola echoed. “But—but I thought—well, d’you know where she works now?”

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“Then d’you know her present address?”

“If I did,” he replied, “I don’t know whether she’d like me to give it. I think she stayed somewhere off the Paseo de Gracia, but she’s moved about quite a bit. May I ask why you’re interested?”

“I’m her sister and I’ve come for a holiday,” Nicola explained, “but I can’t seem to get in touch with her.”

There was a pause. Then the man spoke. “I’m sorry I can’t help you at present, but would it be possible for us to meet? My name is Patrick Holton and I work for this firm. If you’d like to have dinner with me tonight—or tomorrow—I might be able to help you in some way.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Nicola said impulsively. When she put the telephone down she wondered if she had been wise in accepting a dinner invitation from a man she didn’t know and had never seen. She reminded herself that she was nearly twenty-four and even if she were alone in a foreign city it was not so very different from being on holiday alone in Bournemouth.

She was ready, wearing a new cream suit, when Patrick Holton called at the hotel at half-past eight. He took her
to a restaurant near the Plaza Cataluna and during the meal she had opportunities to study him.

She judged him to be in his middle twenties, but with a pleasant, smiling face he could easily have been older. Tall and slim with fair hair, he looked completely English, and his friendly manner soon put her at ease.

“You’re not at all like your sister in looks,” he observed.

N
icola smiled. “Oh, no, I’m not in the same street as Lisa. She’s the pretty one and I’m ordinary.”

Against Lisa’s small, dark-eyed, vivacious appearance Nicola had often felt at a disadvantage.

“Tell me what made you decide to come to Barcelona,” he suggested. “We might be able to find a clue that will lead us to Lisa.”

Nicola explained about the letters that had passed between her and her sister, the sudden decision to leave the now unattractive London job, but she did not mention Lisa’s idea that Nicola should take over the post in the Barcelona wine-shippers! That could come later, although she doubted whether there was a vacancy now if Lisa had left some time ago.

“I went to the flat on the Paseo Maritimo and a woman told me that Lisa had left a few days ago,” Nicola said.

Patrick’s eyebrows shot up. “The Paseo Maritimo? Those flats are quite stylish. Wish I could afford one.”

“When did Lisa leave your firm?” she asked.

“I checked that before I came away tonight,” he answered. “End of March, roughly six weeks ago.”

“Six weeks?” Nicola instantly suppressed the dismay she felt. That meant that Lisa had already changed jobs before she had suggested Nicola’s visit. Why hadn’t she said so?

After a long pause Nicola asked, “What was Lisa’s work in your firm? Was she satisfactory?”

Patrick took a few moments to answer. “She typed invoices, and I gather she wasn’t exactly the darling of the department. She was very unpunctual and apparently took a day off when she fancied.”

N
icola smiled. It sounded typical of Lisa, who had
jumped from one job to another ever since she had left school. Aloud she said, “My sister doesn’t like monotony.”

“I don’t think she liked any kind of work either,” he observed.

He had shrewdly summed up Lisa’s attitude to earning a living. Nicola was barely twenty and Lisa eighteen when their father died suddenly three years ago. Their mother had died some years before.

Nicola naturally assumed responsibility for her younger sister, but at eighteen Lisa had already planned what she wanted out of life. “Luxury, clothes, gaiety—and no hard work,” she had told Nicola many times over in different words.

She was disappointed that their father had left so little money. “Let’s sell this house,” she had suggested to Nicola, “and take a small flat in central London. We’re so far out here at Richmond.”

On the solicitor’s advice, Nicola had insisted that part of Lisa’s half-share of the proceeds was to be held in trust until she was twenty-one, but the rest had been speedily exhausted, and it was Nicola who usually had to pay the expenses of the small flat the two girls shared in Bayswater.

Courses at a drama academy, then a modelling school, had proved both expensive and unfruitful in Lisa’s career and she found it impossible to settle in a job for more than a few weeks. As soon as she was twenty-one and could claim her trust fund she was off, first for a prolonged holiday with friends in Italy and Corsica. Then she wrote to Nicola that she was working in Barcelona and having a wonderful time.

But where was Lisa now?

“You could try the British Embassy,” Patrick was saying, “and see if they have news of your sister. Or, of course, the police, the
Guardia civil
.”

Nicola sighed. “If Lisa’s gone away for only a few days, she’d be furious if I did that.”


I think you ought to try to get into that flat of hers,”
he continued. “You might find some sort of clue there. She may even have left a letter for you.”

“How simple! I see that I ought to have insisted on being let in yesterday.”

“Somewhere in the building you’ll probably find a caretaker who has master keys,” Patrick told her.

He promised to keep in touch with her and next morning she went early to the block of flats on the Paseo Maritimo.

She tried Lisa’s door hopefully and rang the bell, but there was only silence. Only after, a heated argument with the woman caretaker, with Nicola brandishing her passport to prove her identity, was the girl at last allowed to enter the flat, accompanied by the caretaker.

Nicola gazed at the fine spacious room with
modern
furniture, a bathroom and shower, a small alcove ostensibly for cooking, but the flat was as impersonal as a hotel suite. There was not a single personal possession anywhere. Empty wardrobe and drawers, no cosmetics on the dressing table. There was nothing to prove that Lisa had ever lived in the flat.

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