by Susan Roebuck
Published by Mundania Press on March 19th, 2015
Time, and most of Portugal, has almost forgotten Luminosa, a small fishing community on the Alentejo coast. A cluster of white and blue cottages huddle under the cliffs overshadowed by the great manor of Herdade Albatroz, whose family has ruled the village since the days of Napoleon. Far off the tourist route, nobody visits Luminosa by chance.
When a ruthless American racketeer turns up, the peaceful village’s way of life could be ruined forever. But will other visitors—Piper Pines, seeking news of her long dead Portuguese mother, and Leo Shine, bereft of a father and brother accused of terrible crimes—help or hinder his objective to drag Luminosa into the twenty-first century?
Amazon UK – Nook – Omnilit – Mundania PressExcerpt
Leo woke to find the sun on his face. He raised himself onto his elbow, disorientated. Had he slept too late? He’d kicked off the covers during the night and was butt naked, his body sweating in the heat. Shouldn’t it be raining? It always rained in September. The crashing of waves sounded familiar enough, but where were the other usual sounds: the clanking of the dockside crane as it dipped and swung from the fishing boats’ holds, the wagons rumbling towards the canning factory, the glad shouts from crews on the vessels returning home? Where was the everlasting stink of fish and gasoline? Why did it smell of freshly baked bread? He scratched his head to free it from the last clouds of sleep and forced his eyes open wider to look around the cramped room. Against the wall was his open rucksack with his few spare clothes spewing out onto the floor.
Glancing at his watch, he saw it wasn’t that late and then it dawned on him the sun was in a different position, that’s all, because he wasn’t in his bedroom in the family home on Wharf Street; he was six thousand miles to the southeast and he’d arrived last night.
Leo had wondered during all those hours on the planes if he should charge in when he arrived in the village like a storm trooper and shake the first inhabitant he saw until information rattled out of him along with his teeth. He snorted at the idea. No, he’d play with them like a fish on a line and then reel ’em in once they took a bite of his enticing bait. And if it turned out they had played any part, however small, in the Goblin’s sinking then he, like Luke Skywalker, would be a force to be reckoned with.
But when he did arrive last night, a stocky and very hairy guy asked, stating, Leo thought, the damned obvious, “Just arrived?” He said his name was Serafim as he placed a dish of steaming fish stew in front of Leo.
This was a primo. The main one. Serafim was the guy who sent the Christmas cards and he hadn’t been difficult to find in this one-horse town since the sign Serafim’s Bar/Café was the first thing Leo spotted on arrival.
It felt strange, though, finally meeting a relative who wasn’t his father or brother, and for a moment Leo was tempted to wonder if he could get away with introducing himself. Nah—bad idea. Hadn’t he already decided the best action was to keep schtum? Anyway he was too hungry and he eyed a fragrant dish brimming with clams, white fish fillets, golden potatoes, and chorizo sausage with almost the first feeling of pleasure he’d known since March.
Leo chewed on a briny clam and eyed possibly more of his relatives: a handful of fisherman who arrived, creating a buzz of too many voices so the air was thick with sounds and a fishy odor that didn’t come from his plate. They didn’t look much different to the hard-lined, weathered fishermen he’d lived and worked with all his life, sitting at the scuffed bar on bar stools that had been broken several times and patched up, their shirts stained with fish blood. Except money wasn’t flowing like it would where Leo came from. In the dingy Halcyon Bar back home there would be a constant ringing of a bell when guys had had a big catch and a bunch of money to spend on buying rounds. Here they hugged their one beer, chewed what looked like flat yellow beans and spat the transparent skins out onto a saucer.
Still, their leathery faces looked cheerful enough and they’d given him a wave or two as they passed, even though they couldn’t have a clue who he was. Course, they might all be dimwits. His father had once referred to the primos as “all inter-married and crazy as Crackerjacks. Won’t change a thing in the village, it’s like walking into a time slip and going back a hundred years.”
When it came time for Leo to ask about renting a room, Serafim told him there was one above the café and didn’t even ask his name.
This morning, Leo clambered down the wooden staircase and opened the door that was the inside entrance to the café. The only things he desired right now were freshly baked bread and a coffee.
The café was empty except for a plump woman holding a straw basket, her ankles so swollen they rose over her shoes and spilled down the side like beer foaming over a glass. She turned as Leo came in, saying, “Good morning,” and her weathered face creased into a brown-tooth filled smile. “Welcome. I do hope you have a very pleasant stay.”
His mind tumbled in confusion. Where did these people learn their English? It wasn’t like everyone in the country spoke fluently. The cab driver last night had stumbled and tottered over his words several times before he’d managed to convey to Leo he’d have to drop him at the top of the hill that led down to the village because he didn’t think his cab would get down the narrow street.
Unaffected by Leo’s lack of response, the woman continued, “Would you like a coffee the likes of which you’ve never had before? Just the way Serafim knows how to make it, thick, strong and short—a bit like Serafim himself, but not so hairy.” The woman gargled what could’ve been a chuckle. “One and a half cups and you’ll be buzzing.”
“Sounds good to me,” Leo said as she threw a final laugh in Serafim’s direction before she placed what looked like jars of honey on the counter and then clattered through the chain curtain hanging at the door.
Leo turned to his primo behind the counter. Primo. God dammit, families were people you had feelings for and the only people he cared about had been wiped out by a rogue wave. In any case, Leo didn’t think Serafim and he resembled each other in any way.
“Bica I presume?” Serafim asked, offering the tiny steaming cup of coffee with an elaborate bow.
In the fug of ground coffee-beans, tobacco, stale beer and wine, Leo held the tiny cup of thick brown liquid to his nose, inhaling deeply before adding three packets of sugar. The coffee began to work its magic, bringing a warm glow to his insides on a par with a gulp of brandy.
“We aim to please,” Serafim said, obviously reading Leo’s expression correctly.
The guy had attitude and Leo had to admit he liked it. Serafim wasn’t morose, nor a meathead, and probably neither were the guys in the bar last night because after Leo had turned in, he heard a coarse-voiced chorus from down- stairs which had lulled him off to sleep. “You speak good English,” Leo said.
“Practice, that’s all,” Serafim said, handing over a warm roll with butter and jelly that, he told him was, “all homemade. If you want any ask Rosa, she’s my sister and the one who just left.”
So he’d just met another primo, had he? Rosa? Shame, he’d kinda liked her.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Roebuck was born and educated in the UK but she now lives in Portugal with her Portuguese husband. She has taught at various colleges and institutions in Portugal and her interest in dyslexia started with a discussion over lunch with a colleague and friend. Nowadays Sue’s mostly occupied by e-learning courses which, when no cameras are used, are also known as “teaching in your pajamas”. But, given a choice, writing would be her full-time occupation. Working from home presents no problem for her since her office window overlooks the glittering point where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The huge container ships, tankers and cruise liners which are constantly on their way in or out of Lisbon harbor are a great source of inspiration (or distraction). She has traveled widely through The States and believes that “being born American is like winning the lottery of life”. If she could live anywhere, she’d live in the Catskills in Upstate New York.
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