They pulled up outside a row of modern buildings. Outside one was a sign ‘Advocato, Solicitodore’ . Above the offices was a row of flats. On the other side of the road was a derelict industrial site with a huge concrete water tower that looked as though it had hair. Parvin looked more closely .
“That looks like a storks nest!” she said. "there are babies!” They stopped to look more closely.
“It doesn’t look as though it would balance there,” said Jeff, “what amazing birds!”
A man came to meet them. he had a dark blue suit and a very white shirt with a red tie.
“Come on in! I am Renaldo de Marco, the lawyer for the vendor. She is English, like you.”
They followed him up marble stairs into a large, rather anonymous reception area. There were no other clients there.
“My receptionist is at lunch,” he said, ushering them into an office. It was large with a big window looking over the street. The desk was clear of files. Parvin thought of her desk at work, full of all sorts of detritus. This lawyer did not even seem to need a stapler.
Seated by the desk was a woman in her sixties. She had wiry blond hair and wore too much make-up.
"This is Beverley Jenkins, the Vendor," said the lawyer. The woman stood up and shook hands with them all.
They chatted about the weather and then Jeff asked why she was selling the property as soon as it was built. She did not seem like a property developer.
"My husband and I were going to retire here but he died a couple of months ago. The place has lost its charm for me now. I just want to forget it. It has too many of our hopes and dreams tied up in it. I just asked the builders to finish it as quickly as possible so it could be sold." The woman took out an embroidered handkerchief and blew her nose.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," said Marcus. Older women always seemed to have proper hankies rather than tissues.
“here are the deeds to the property,” said the lawyer, opening a file. "Here is the contract. I need you to sign where it is marked with a pencil cross and then also sign the authorisation for the bank transfer for the deposit. I will get copies made for you and send them to your hotel."
“How much is the deposit?” asked Jeff, aware that they would need to get funds out of their high interest account. He felt worried that they did not have their own lawyer but time was too tight to find one. They didn't want to lose the place.
“50% is customary where the property is still under construction.” said the lawyer.
Jeff and Marcus signed the papers. They were in Portuguese. They shook hands with Mrs Jenkins and went back down to the street. It was baking hot outside after the cool marble building. They stopped again to look at the storks.
“Lets go up and have another look at the place, “ said Jeff.
They drove up to the village and parked outside the house. There was something timeless about it.
“Do you think they will be back soon to finish the building work?” asked Parvin, “it looks like things have been left for quite a while.”
“I’m sure they will,” said Marcus, “the agent seemed to think it was only a short break. I can't wait to move in!"
- o -
Dan wiped his mouth on his napkin.
“That was wonderful!” he said, “I haven’t eaten that well in years!”
"It was great “ agreed Nell, “and great company too.”
“Will you come and see how our ant experiment is coming on?” asked Frances. Nell went over and knelt down to look at the ants. Through a gap in the wall she could see a car drawing up outside the property over the road. A woman who look Portuguese and two men who looked British got out and wandered around outside.
“There’s an interesting story about that place,” said Alex, seeing Nell watching the people. He told her about the widow and the baby.
“How sad!” said Nell, “people’s lives! They think things will all be worked out perfectly and it ends up totally different to how they planned.”
“Will you come tomorrow?” begged Frances.
“Please? I want to show you my dancing. You could take photos. I'm writing a book, we could do the illustrations for it!”
“Are you into photography?” asked Jack, “I love it myself.”
“Until recently it was how I made my living”, said Nell shyly. "mostly weddings and people’s pets but still I enjoyed it. I like doing the more arty stuff when I can.”
“I’ll show you my shots from this trip,” said Jack, pulling out his laptop from down the side of his chair..
“You’re in for a long session!” laughed Molly, “he never stops snapping!”
“I’m off to hire a moped!” announced Ginny, suddenly.
“Blimey, that’s a bit rash!” said Bron, “what happened to relaxing?”
“I hired one last time we were here”.
“But you were 15 years younger then!”
“Ye of little faith,” said Ginny, picking the car keys out of the fruit bowl and flouncing out of the front door.
Andy and Kenny played chess, arguing quietly about what was within the rules and what Kenny might have made up. Jack showed Nell his pictures. Frances and Billy played on their Nintendos and Molly chatted to Dan about genealogy. Alex read a Bronte novel he had found in the villa’s bookshelves, making notes in a hardback notebook. An hour passed. Suddenly they heard a squeal of tyres, very nearby.
“Shit!” said Kenny, “what the hell was that?”
“Don’t swear” said Bron, automatically. They all rushed out to the front. In the road they could see Ginny, with a moped leaning against the villa wall. Across the road was a small car. Two men and a woman were talking to Ginny.
“Everything all right?” asked Alex, anxiously.
“Fine, love” said Ginny, “I just nearly ran these poor people off the road.” She turned to the driver.
“ I'm so sorry, I don’t know what to say. Can we persuade you to stay for dinner to make up for it?”
“You don’t have to do that, “ said the tall man, who was wearing a beautiful straw hat, “it was just as much our fault. We were pulling out of the drive there.”
“I insist!” said Ginny in a voice that brooked no dissent, “and you two are very welcome to stay too!” she added to Nell and Dan.
“That would be great but I have a treatment booked for 5pm. I’m staying at a health spa in Monchique,” Nell explained.
“Well, please do come back tomorrow,” said Molly. "Frannie will never let us forget it if you don't - she is so pleased to have made a friend."
“We’d love to. How about 11ish?”
As they drove back, Dan and Nell discussed how to approach his mother.
“Don’t forget, she also seems to have a teenage son. He would be your brother!” said Nell.
“Or half brother,” ruminated Dan, “depends if we have the same dad.”
- o -
Jeff and Marcus were a hit with the kids. they were like a double act, cracking jokes and play-acting. Marcus sketched Frances dancing and signed it for her; Jeff beat Billy and Kenny at Nintendogs.
Molly took to Parvin straight away. there was something lost about her; she looked like she needed feeding up. And her poor broken arm!
Later, Ginny and Bron roped Jeff and Marcus into helping prepare dinner while Jack showed Parvin the Google maps application on his laptop.
“I have a blackberry” said Parvin, “but I think they are over-rated. you can’t do as much with them.”
“You can zoom in really tight – here is the villa and here is the one belonging to the widow over the road.”
“Which one?” asked Parvin, peering at the screen.
“The one over there - its been left for years because of some cock up in Portuguese law. It can't be sold, or finished or anything. Ginny can tell you more – I’m not so familiar with the legal language.” Parvin got up,
“Excuse me a moment...” she said, gesturing with her head to Jeff and Marcus, “boys, I think Ginny may have some information that you want to hear.” Ginny was chopping up tomatoes for a salad. Parvin explained to Ginny what Jack had said and that Jeff and Marcus were in the process of buying the villa over the road.
“But it can’t be sold,” said Ginny, “the widow can’t do anything with it until the son is 18; he’s only about 16 now so it is just sitting there. the whole thing is a mess!”
“But the lawyer has taken a deposit from us!” exclaimed Jeff, “he got us to sign loads of documents and was arranging for the money to be transferred by telegraphic transfer overnight."
“Which lawyer?” asked Jack, “it must be a mistake. we could look up his number and give him a ring to stop the payment.” Marcus found the bit of paper from the agent and gave it to Jack. after a bit of fiddling on his laptop Jack looked up with a puzzled expression on his face.
“I hate to say this guys, but there is no lawyer with than name in Lagoa, or indeed in Faro.”
“The stuff on the net must be out of date,” said Parvin, “we were there today at his office! Its by the big storks nest.”
“Well, lets take a run down there,” said Jack, "they won’t be closed yet. We can grab a coffee in the square after we have seen him.” Jack and Molly had lived for 5 years in Switzerland and were addicted to strong coffee. At home they had a big machine that frothed it all up and did everything but gave you a free massage; they missed the hit of caffeine and stocked up whenever they could in bars and cafes.
“I’ll stay here and clean up a bit,” said Molly.
“I’ll stay with you, Mum,” said Frances. she liked to play with her hands; they were imaginary characters called Maxi and Window and had a life of their own. She used their interactions to process what had happened in her day. She was beginning to be a bit self-conscious about it and preferred to play with them when her brother wasn’t around to tease her.
Jack, Andy, Billy and Kenny climbed in one car and Jeff, Marcus, Parvin and Alex went in the other. They were soon in the town, and rumbled along the concrete road to where the stork’s nest was. They parked in the shade – the sun was still hot.
“I don’t understand!” said Parvin, rushing up and down the pavement, “it was here, I’m sure it was!”
“It was definitely here, the view of the stork is the same, I have a picture of it,” said Marcus, sounding unsettled. Where the sign saying 'Solicidore' had been was now a sign saying 'for sale'. They knocked on the door of the building. A very old man carrying a mop opened the door. He had only 3 teeth and his trousers were held up over a dirty white vest by braces. On his head was a greasy tweed cap.
“E me, “said Marcus, “advocotare?” He pointed at the office.
“Gone.” said the man, with finality.
“Where?” asked Jeff, in a cracked voice.
“Not know.” said the man. He waved his hand in a gesture which suggested they could have gone anywhere and blew his nose into the gutter. He shrugged his shoulders and turned round, picking up a metal bucket full of dirty water.
“What shall we do?” Jeff sounded stressed, “the deposit was 50% of the price – that’s nearly £150k! Do you think they are crooks?”
“Who knows?” said Marcus, more calmly but still not his usual laid-back self, "lets go and have a coffee and think how we should deal with this.”
They ordered coffees for the adults and non-alcoholic beers for the boys. While they waited for them to come they turned over the various possibilities.
“What we must do is report it to the police,” said Parvin. “I think its a fraud.” The two boys wandered off to a bench nearby and took out their Nintendos.
“I feel so stupid!” said Jeff, “how could this happen? This is a civilised country!”
“We’ll get it sorted,” said Marcus, patting his arm, “its just a case of thinking it through and getting the authorities onto it.” They decided to go to the bank first thing in the morning and try to stop the transfer.
- o -
Nell had a restless night and woke early. The sun was so bright here – it was impossible to sleep through it shining into the room. It seemed to say ‘ get up – live!’ Nell sat up and got out of bed. The marble floor was cool on her feet.She had a massage booked for before breakfast and had a quick shower before dressing and making her way to the front desk.
The treatment rooms all had fabulous views across the valley. They looked as though they might have been converted from stables or farm buildings. Nell luxuriated in the expert hands of the young Scandinavian man who was working on her back. She could feel the tension being squeezed out of her muscles like toothpaste tubes. This holiday had been a great idea. Getting away was one thing but the pampering and nurturing was revitalising her in a way she could not have foreseen.
Dan was going to pick her up at 10.30. He had arranged to borrow Paulo’s van. She was looking forward to seeing the folks at the villa. They had an easy friendly way about them; they made her feel welcome. She was also looking forward to seeing Dan. She did not really trust herself to make judgements about her emotions at the moment but she could not deny she found him very attractive. She resolved to take things one day at a time.
When they got to the villa, Alex, Bron and Ginny were not there. They had gone into Lagoa to meet up with some new friends. Andy explained what had happened after Nell and Dan had left. The 3 lawyers had gone along to try to help get things sorted out with the bank and the police. Frannie was in the bath.
“I’m going to look round the area and take a few shots of flowers and stuff while Frannie has a soak,” said Nell. She picked up her Nikon and her hat.
“I’ll stay here and entertain these guys,” said Dan, pointing at the boys, “I’ll teach them orienteering!”
Nell wandered slowly up the road. She took some panoramas of the valley and some close-ups of plants that she had only seen before on window cills. A huge aloe vera had what at first appeared to be seeds but which on closer inspection were hundreds of tiny snails. Nell breathed in deeply. The air here smelt of herbs. The warmth was intoxicating. She walked further, past an old cottage with impossibly tall hollyhocks and a man in a wide floppy cotton hat digging in the garden.
Rounding a bend, she came to a hideous modern villa, built with no sense of style and no taste. It had numerous balconies and a huge roof terrace. Nell surreptitiously took a few shots through the balustrade. It was like a pastiche. Nell thought to herself that it was probably owned by a footballer.
Further along was a more traditional building, with wide walls sweeping up to the gates. the lower section of the walls was painted a gorgeous cobalt blue, as were the stone round the windows. Nell took some shots of the whole building and some details of the windows, framing them carefully in the viewfinder. Although you could crop and play around with composition on the computer later, Nell had learnt on a film camera and still took each shot as though that was it.
She turned round and began to walk back to the villa. As she approached she could hear the kids shouting and laughing. They had abandoned orienteering and were dive-bombing each other in the pool. Dan was chatting to Jack about dogs.
“Hi boys!” called Nell. they looked round and grinned at her. “Good walk?” asked Dan.
“Wonderful! I took some great shots.” Jack pulled out his laptop and a cable and offered to download them so they could have a slideshow.
“How amazing modern technology is!” marvelled Dan, “a few years ago you would have had to wait until you got home and send them off to be processed. now you can look at them 10 minutes after you took them!”
The kids climbed out of the pool, teeth chattering.
”don’t drip on my laptop!” warned Jack. The pictures panned past. The ones of the snails were particularly good. Jack pressed the space bar to pause the slide show, then zoomed in so they could see the detail. Each tiny snail was a different colour, with a huge variety of patterns in their shells.
“this is an interesting one,” said Nell, as the cobalt blue walls came onto the screen, “the blue is electric!” She noticed that the shots of the windows showed a figure that she had not noticed in the bright sunlight. That would make an interesting composition. They moved onto the pictures of the footballer's villa. In front of the building was a dusty Mercedes. A man was frozen in time, getting a briefcase out of the back seat.
“This looks like a still from a gangster movie!” said Dan. they heard cars drawing up outside. Ginny, Bron and Alex came round the side of the villa, followed by Parvin, Jeff and Marcus. Nell and Dan were introduced.
“No joy!” said Jeff, bitterly, “the police didn’t seem to think it was a police matter. They said we should report it to the professional body for lawyers. We went to the bank and filled out all the forms to stop the transfer but they weren’t hopeful.”
“The main problem is we don’t have a copy of the documents we signed,” explained Marcus, “the lawyer said he would get them copied and give us our copies when we went back to finalise the deal. we don’t even know what we signed – half of them were in Portuguese!”
“Lets have some lunch anyway,” said Molly. “I’ll light the Barbie.” Nell carried on looking at her pictures on the laptop.
“This really is a beautiful place!” she sighed, “I don’t want to go home.” Jeff and Marcus showed a desultory interest but it was clear their thoughts were elsewhere. But as the shot of the footballers house came on the screen, Marcus swore.
“That’s him! it’s the lawyer!”
“Are you sure?” said Jack, zooming in on the man’s face.
“I wouldn’t forget that slimy bastard! it is definitely him!”
“Its just down the road,” began Nell, Jeff and Marcus were already running out of the door. they jumped in the car and roared off in a cloud of dust.
“Where’s the fire?” said Molly, coming in from the garden. Jack explained what had happened and showed her the picture.
“He looks dodgy!” said Molly.
Ten minutes later they heard the car coming back, much more slowly.
“No sign of him now!” said Jeff, bitterly, “we rang the bell on the gate for ages. The place is all closed up and the car has gone. There are two hideous dogs otherwise we could have had a look through the windows.”
“At least we know where he lives” said Parvin.
”But he may have just been visiting a client. That might not be his own house,” pointed out Bron, “although at least it’s a link. we can give the address to the authorities.”
After lunch, Nell and Dan said their goodbyes and headed down into the town. They planned to visit the town hall again and try to find out if there were any remaining members of his family they could approach.
Bron and Ginny cleared the table. Andy stretched back in his chair, patting his stomach.
”We are eating like kings on this holiday!” he grinned.
“If you are a king you should have all your food tasted first by a serf to make sure no-one is trying to poison you.” said Kenny.
As Bron put the kettle on for coffee she became aware that Lucilia, the maid was in the kitchen. Lucilia moved silently; she had the grace of a ballet dancer. She kept making them jump by appearing out of the blue, carrying a pile of washing, or a duster. She gently tapped Bron’s arm, showing her a photograph.
“Sobrinho! “ She tapped the young man in the picture, then banged her chest with the flat of her hand. Bron looked in the phrase book.
“Your nephew?” asked Bron.
“Si! sobrinho” the picture could have been Dan. Except the man was wearing a boiler suit and heavy boots.
“Where is he now?” asked Bron.
“Ah, inoperante.” said Lucilia, looking sad, “13 (Portuguese for years)” she showed Bron all her fingers and the 3 again. “(Portuguese for where)” and held her hand up, palm downwards, to signify a tall person.
“Dan?” asked Bron, miming curly hair.
“In Lagoa.” explained Bron, “town hall.”
“Its called the camera municipal” said Ginny.
Bron mimed someone looking at a book and tracing their finger down the pages.
Kenny came in.
“What are you trying to say?” he asked
“I’m trying to explain that Dan is trying to find his family by researching at the town hall.” said Bron, “but I’m making a complete hash of it.”
Kenny took out his notebook. he drew a stick man and a stick woman, then a vertical line below them, then some stick children, then horizontal lines and more stick people.
“Ah familia (portugese for family)!” beamed Lucilia “(clever boy)!” She ruffled Kenny’s hair. Bron winced. People did not ruffle Kenny’s hair. It made him go into a big wobbly. But Kenny just smiled and went back to his Nintendo. Bron and Andy caught each other’s eye and shrugged.
“Dan, (is from round here?)” asked Lucilia, an odd expression on her face.
Kenny looked up. “she says is Dan from round here.”
“How do you know?” asked Bron, perplexed. She was used to her son suddenly acquiring new skills but she had not been aware that he had learnt Portugese.
“I’ve been reading the phrase book.” Kenny explained in a matter of fact tone.
“Can you explain that Dan is adopted and is trying to find his family?” asked Bron, not hopeful that even her son could get this concept across.
Kenny turned a page in his notebook. he drew a stick woman, with her arms outstretched, passing a baby to another stick woman. he drew tears falling from the first stick woman’s face. he passed the notebook to Lucilia who looked at it, then dropped it and ran out of the room.
“What have you done now?” said Andy, exasperated, “she must think it is something rude!”
Bron searched for Lucilia in the washing room and in the garden but there was no sign of her.
“Hell, she’s disappeared!” she said, “honestly Kenny…”
“What? I was only trying to help!” cried Kenny.