Nell pushed her hair out of her eyes. It was hot and sticky in the records room. The town did not have the breeze that wafted up at the villa. She was wading through the records of marriages, hoping to find something. It would help if the names were not so common. Everyone seemed to be related to everyone else. She came across a record of a marriage between Sandra Martins and Roberto Silva in 1978.
“Hey Dan,” she grabbed his arm, “look!”
They both turned to the ledger that Nell was working through.
“I’m glad they got married.” said Dan, thoughtfully, “it means I came from parents who loved each other, or at least had some connection with each other.”
“His job is given as engineer.” said Nell, “and hers as maid.”
They went through the records of births for 1978 and the years following but found nothing.
“Maybe they moved away?” said Nell, “I can’t believe in a Catholic country like this they wouldn’t have had more children once they were married.”
“Lets go for a coffee and a break and then ask Maria where we go from here.”
They sat in the shade sipping their coffee. Nell took a few shots of the people wandering by, and of a dog asleep in the shade. She saw a familiar face, at another table, the woman from the plane. She was wearing orange gingham Capri pants and a tangerine short sleeved
blouse. On her feet were white espadrilles. The orange looked wonderful next to the green of the plants. Nell surreptitiously took a few shots of the café, including the woman and her companion.
“I saw them on the plane,” she explained, “they both looked utterly fed up. Its amazing the effect this place has on people – they look years younger!”
They paid the bill and went back to the town hall. Maria showed them how to look up land ownership records.
“You might find an address where you could start looking,” she suggested.
After an hour or so Dan and Nell were grinding to a halt.
“Shall we call it a day?” said Dan, sounding worn out. They were going back to villa Borboleta for a swim and dinner. Nell was having great fun helping Frannie with her illustrations. Bron told them about the photograph and Lucilia’s strange reaction to Kenny’s drawing. They had not seen her since and were a bit concerned about her. They had no idea where she lived or how to get in touch
Nell downloaded her recent photos onto Jack’s laptop.
”Its a beautiful little town.” she said, “we stopped at this café for a break – it was lovely in the shade.”
“She looks a bit of a hard case,” said Molly, pointing the woman from the plane. “and her husband looks like something out of a horror movie!”
* * *
The next day was Bron’s birthday and they were all invited to villa Borbeleta for a party. Nell had a pedicure in the morning and then read in the courtyard until Dan came to pick her up. They drove up to the villa.
“You look fabulous!” said Dan, smiling at her, “the health spa is making all the worry fall away from you.”
“I’m really enjoying everything about this holiday,” said Nell shyly, “making new friends, playing with the kids and helping you with finding your folks. and especially spending time with you – you are
Dan blushed. “thank you, “ he said, “so are you."
They pulled up outside the villa. Jeff and Marcus’s car was already there. He picked up the wine from the boot. They had chosen this one solely because of the label. The blurb promised a wine that "smells like a ladies handbag and tastes like a man's wallet." Nell had bought Bron some earrings made locally and she checked to make sure they were in her bag.
They went round to the back. Things were already in full swing and even Jeff and Marcus looked a bit more cheery. Molly had plaited Frances’s hair into lots of tiny plaits with beads in and she was
wearing a dress.
”You look lovely!” said Nell.
“So do you Nell,” said Frances, “no wonder Dan loves you!”
Nell felt her face heating up. Luckily Billy rushed up with a tray of nibbles and interrupted them. “I made these myself!” he said, “pastries are my speciality!”
Lucilia was in the kitchen when Nell went in to find Bron. She had a younger woman with her who was helping with the food.
”Ola!” Lucilia gently patted Nell’s arm. “boyfriend?” Just then Dan came into the kitchen in search of wine. Lucilia became animated. She said something in rapid Portugese to the younger woman. The younger woman replied and Lucilia repeated what she had said more urgently.
“I am Lucilia’s daughter Claudia,” she said, “I work in London – I’m just home for the holidays. My mother wants me to tell you that you are the image of my cousin. She could not believe it when she first saw you.”
“Where does your cousin live?” asked Dan, thinking he might finally have found someone who could help with his search.
“He died years ago in an accident in the quarry. It was tragic. He and his childhood sweetheart Sandra had just bought the plot of land over the road and made a start on building their home. They had saved up for years for it. And she had just had a baby after years of trying. Then he was taken from her. It broke her heart.”
“What happened to the house, was it sold?”
“No, Sandra cannot do anything with it. My cousin had not made a will. No-one can do anything with it until his son Luis reaches 18. He is only 16 now. Sandra works in the town and she and Luis live in a
miserable little flat. She did not deserve such luck, she is a lovely kind woman.”
“Is Sandra a common name round here?” asked Nell, thoughtfully.
“Fairly common,” said Claudia.
They could hear splashing and shrieks from the garden and went to see what the noise was about. The kids had thrown Ginny into the pool and she was splashing them with the aid of the plastic dolphin which they had named Flipper.
“After our meal I am going to delight you all with a slide show of Nell’s photos!” announced Jack, “I can plug my laptop into the telly so we have a bigger screen.”
“Can we show them my stuff, Nell?” asked Frances.
“What a brilliant idea,” said Nell, “they can see the fruits of all our hard work!”
Andy had pulled all the garden tables together and they sat around, laughing and joking. Marcus and Jeff were subdued but they were beginning to come to terms with the fact that they had a lot less to
spend on their new home now. They had decided to changed their plans and, rather than keep the house in Brighton on, they were going to sell it and move over to Portugal straight away. Once it was sold they could build a studio for them both and carry on with their work.
The light began to fade and everyone moved indoors. First, Jack showed them the photos and montages that Frances had been working on with Nell. Frances was extraordinarily talented both at photography and drawing and had embellished the photos on the laptop with beautiful
designs and captions. The series of pictures told the story of a computer model and a griffon who fell in love. At the end everyone broke out in spontaneous applause. Tears were rolling down Molly’s
“I can see a future for you in the art world”, said Marcus, “when we get back to England I will contact some people I know who might be interested in publishing your work.”
“Really?” screeched Frances, “that would be so cool!”
“Now for the boring stuff,” laughed Nell. Nell’s photos were anything
but boring. They had a sensitivity and an eye for composition that she had learnt using a film camera. She loved unusual angles and her portraits were wonderful. They came to the ones from the café.
“See how chirpy this woman looks now?” said Nell, “I remember her from the plane. She was a miserable as anything. The healing powers of Portugal!”
“Stop!” shouted Parvin. Everyone looked at her.
“Can you zoom in? she asked Jack.
”Sure,” said Jack, enlarging the woman’s face.
“Not her, the man with her!” said Parvin urgently. Jack enlarged the man’s face.
“God he’s ugly!” said Bron.
“Its not that – he’s the agent for the house!” shouted Parvin.
“God so he is!” said Jeff. “and she’s the vendor! Its just without so much make-up she looks different.”
Suddenly Kenny came rushing in.
”Quick, quick, Billy’s stuck!” Jack and Dan jumped up and ran out after him.
“Where?” shouted Jack urgently.
“In a funny sort of palace. We were playing orienteering and these huge dogs came out of nowhere and he had to slam the door. I managed to jump over the fence before they got to me but he’s stuck inside the building!”
Dan sprinted along after Kenny until they reached a huge ugly villa.Dan recognised it as the one in Fran’s pictures. They could hear the sound of angry dogs long before they got there. They were massive. They had loose skin over their whole body; abundant, hanging wrinkles and folds on the head; and a voluminous dewlap. Their heads were huge.
“Jack, these are Neapolitan Mastiffs". said Dan, "I know dogs, I can deal with them. You get Billy out, walk quietly to the gate and then close it after you.” Jack nodded.
Dan slowly opened the gate. The dogs were by the front door of the building, barking at the door. Dan moved towards them. They looked uncertainly at him, then began to turn. Dan fixed the biggest one with his eyes. he let out a low almost inaudible noise. The dog stopped. Dan stopped. the dog lay down. Dan did the same with the other dog.
He walked over to them. The dogs lay on their sides, closing their eyes. Jack opened the front door, gestured to Billy to be quiet, and walked slowly to the gate. Once it was closed, Dan began to walk backwards, very slowly. Jack opened the gate for him and they snapped it shut. The dogs carried on lying where they were.
“What have you done to them?” squeaked Billy, “they were terrifying!”
“Just a bit of dog whispering,” said Dan, "been able to do it all my life.”
They walked back to Villa Bobolete. For once Billy was silent. When they got inside, Molly leaped up.
”What on earth were you guys thinking of? You could have lost your leg!”
“We were orienteering, “ explained Kenny, in his logical way, "and we found a palace. So we went in to see if there was any treasure.”
“Was there anyone there?” asked Bron, suddenly worried that the police might turn up to arrest her son. He did not think things through before starting on these hair-brained schemes and he regularly got other kids involved as well.
“No, of course not, we wouldn’t have got chased by the dogs if their owner had been there!” said Kenny.
Jack carried on with the slideshow. Kenny and Billy sloped off to Kenny’s room. After a while Bron went to make sure they were ok. Although Kenny was 12 she still fussed over him. She opened the door to the room and found the boys playing on a laptop. It took her a minute to realise
that Jack’s laptop was in the living room.
“I didn’t know you had a laptop too, Billy” she said
“I don’t, it was in the treasure cave” said Billy.
“What do you mean?” asked Bron nervously.
“Look mum, I found this old bag when we were in the hallway of the palace. I didn’t think it had anything important and and then when the dogs appeared I just legged it…” Kenny pointed to a battered briefcase which had obviously contained the laptop.
“Well we must give it back to its owner!” said Bron sharply. She picked up the case and the laptop and rushed into the living room.
“Look what our light-fingered boy has found!”
“Oh my god!” said Andy.
“Wouldn’t that be breaking and entering?” mused Alex.
“I’ll have a look to see if there is a phone number in the case, we can let the owner know we have it. hopefully they will see the funny side of this….” inside the case was a large buff envelope. Bron shook
out the contents.
“They look like legal papers,” said Molly, “and there’s a bankers draft” she picked it up. (Roberto de Marco - £150k)
Marcus had gone very quiet.
“You know what these are, don’t you?” he said slowly, “these are the documents that crook had us sign. And here is a draft from our bank to him! Lets take this little lot down to the police station!"
”Hang on a minute, “said Parvin, “I’ll have a little poke around the laptop and see what our friend has left on it!" It took her a while to hack the password, and typing was painfully slow with only one hand,
but after about 10 minutes she looked up.
“I don’t think you guys were the only ones who got fleeced. Here is a spreadsheet with details of a whole load of properties.”