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?
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.
March—Gulf of Alaska, USA
The swell hit the Alaskan Star broadside making her roll with stomach-churning dives into the troughs.
“Dude,” cried a greenhorn, trying to keep his feet, “the weather stinks.”
“Whatcha expect?” the ghostly voice of the skipper in the wheelhouse sounded over the speaker. “Mellow fruitfulness? Net’s full.”
Mellow fruitfulness. Leo grinned as he watched the winch turning to bring the net in. His father would’ve continued the poem: Close bosom friend of the maturing sun… Leo set his sights on the tilting horizon to the west and wondered how his father and brother on the Goblin were faring. If they were reaching the standards they’d set for her, she’d be underway about twenty miles off by now, probably keeping to the same course: due south.
Leo hitched up his rubber pants that were stuck to his ass, pulled his woolen hat further over his white-blond hair and stepped up to the platform to help steady the net, keeping a careful watch on the cable. Boy, this wet-weather gear didn’t live up to its name. The wet was seeping through his waistband.
The trawler rose and fell with the mountainous waves while Leo braced his legs against the jolting. He waited for the right moment to hook the net that held tons of Pollock and, hopefully, not too much by-catch, although he knew this skipper from the past—the bastard often had the escape holes in the nets sewn up.
His father said they were going to christen the nets and were heading out to the southern salmon grounds. The Goblin had the makings to be a great seiner. Leo couldn’t wait to get off this rust-bucket of a ship and onto the Goblin so he could work alongside his brother and father again.
The skipper’s voice echoed from the hailer over the deck. “Shine, watch what you’re doin’.”
Breaking out of his daydream, Leo pushed past Lofty, the other deck hand on the net, so they could both hook and drag it forward level with the hopper. Lofty had earned his name for obvious reasons, but Leo matched him in the lanky-build and height department and was forever grateful he’d stayed with his proper name, perhaps because of his yellowy-green eye color. And if anyone was even tempted to call him ‘Blondie’ then said person would lose an essential body-part.
“Take a look at that man starboard, Shine,” the skipper ordered over the screaming sea gulls and gannets following the trawler.
For the love of God, how many hands did the guy reckon he had? Leo scanned the deck before he spotted the greenhorn who had been set to mending nets but whose only visible part now was his yellow ass while the rest of him hung overboard. Leo calculated he had half a minute before the net dumped its load so he clambered onto the hopper and jumped down on the other side. The guy was puking his guts up, his arms slack on the sides surely oblivious to the fact he could get caught on flying ropes. Goddamn skipper was a stingy asshole and nothing came cheaper—or more dangerous to the rest of the crew—than a virgin greenhorn no one had the time or the patience to train up for the job. An immense wave surged over the side, gushed across the deck with a roar before it retreated, gathering loose gear with it. Leo grabbed a lifeline with one hand and the puking greenhorn’s collar with the other, and held on.
As the last dregs drained away and the cursing deck crew found their feet, Leo freed the kid. “If you’re going to puke,” he told him, yelling in his face to make himself heard over the din of machinery, gulls and howling gale, “make sure it’s downwind. And hold on to the lifeline.”
Leo went back to the net rigging. Oh man, he was tired. Eighteen hours on deck, blasted and buffeted by cyclonic wind and breakers, and the sea was yielding less than ever. Maybe he’d get an hour’s sleep later. Another torrent of sea surged over the bow and hurled itself across the deck, again sweeping the crew, and Leo, with it. Like the previous one it washed debris and tumbled fish back into the sea while Leo counted heads and checked the puking greenhorn. Everyone was still on board. This time.
No one should be out here in this weather, not in a tin can of a boat like this.
“Shine. You need to stay focused. Or do you need more time out?”
Goddamn ship needed time out. “Twenty foot waves, Skipper,” Leo yelled back.
“You reckon I don’t know that? And that last one was sixteen.”
Like hell it was. Once stable again, Leo clambered over to the winch and stood on one side to help drag the net towards the hopper. While Lofty secured it, Leo reached up to open the side and within a moment they were ankle deep in fish. To the greenhorn it probably looked like a lot, but to Leo it was just a normal catch even if there was a fair amount of jellyfish and mackerel mixed in. They’d get fair wages from this trip if this amount of catch continued for the next four days.
Waves still pounded against the hull, the wind continued to howl, but Leo detected a shift in sound.
“Goddamn port engine’s cranking,” Lofty muttered. “Could this get any worse? Chrissakes, where’s that greenhorn?”
Last time Leo looked, the guy had been over by one of the smaller winches on the afterdeck. Leo headed there, tied himself with a winch rope and leaned over the side under what felt like a raging waterfall to make sure no one was in the sea.
A high-pitched whine caught his attention. Was it the wind? But the wind was constantly shrill; this one changed an octave and was coming from behind him. Leo straightened and followed the sound until he tracked it to a tarpaulin near the hatch on the trawl deck. Lifting a corner and peering into the dank gloom, he saw the boy, legs curled up to his chest, eyes tightly closed as he rocked his body. “We are all going to drown,” he keened.
“Take him to the galley,” the skipper, who’d come down to the deck told Lofty, who’d followed Leo. “And you won’t drown,” he said to the greenhorn, “not with Shine on board.”
Leo inwardly sighed. How many times had he heard he was a mascot on a ship because he was born with a caul about his face? Maybe one day someone would say they took Leo Shine on because he was the best deck boss in Alaska. He’d rather be known for that. “It’s me that won’t drown,” he said. “What happens to the rest of you has nothing to do with me.”
“Whatever.” The skipper’s mind seemed to be on other things. Fact was his stare was beginning to creep Leo out. The skipper licked his lips twice before he cleared his throat. “Perhaps you should’ve gone out with Tom and your father. You know, you with your good luck.”
Leo tried to gauge the man’s face to get a better idea of what he was trying to convey. The guy wasn’t himself; instead of shooting his mouth off, he was fumbling for words. And what did he mean by Leo should’ve gone with them? He’d wanted to go on the newly fitted Goblin, true enough, but his father and Tom had other ideas:
“Do another turn with Lofty,” his father had said, patting his shoulder. “We’ll need your earnings from the Alaskan Star—anything to help pay off the Goblin’s loan. I want to see how she runs, then you and Tom can put the Goblin through her paces yourselves.” He threw him a look that Leo knew so well—the one that scared the shit out of any crew member who might be thinking of answering back, but which his sons could read right down to his pussy-cat heart. “Don’t you go thinkin’,” his father quirked an eyebrow to add emphasis, “the Goblin is your boat, but…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Leo finished for him, “thirty percent of the overall earnings is yours.”
“Don’t feel bad.” Tom had playfully punched him on his bicep before they left the family home on Wharf Street. “We’re only taking her out for a ride. See how she rolls.”
The Goblin wouldn’t roll, Leo knew. Not with her steady platform on that beautiful hull.
Now, on the Alaskan Star, the skipper cleared his throat to get Leo’s attention. Strange, normally, he’d have yelled in Leo’s ear to do that. The skipper looked down at the deck and addressed Leo in a halting voice. “I’m not turning back because the port engine is about to blow a gasket, nor because a deck-hand is freaking out on me. No.” He shook his shaggy head and stared fixedly at a rope coiled to the left of Leo’s shoulder, saying words that Leo would never forget. “I’m going back because a mayday signal just came over the VHF.”
“Mayday?” Leo’s stomach contents churned in fear. “The Goblin?”