The Goa Connection – Chapter 1 and Chapter 2
Action adventure novel in progress. Revision now includes first two chapters.
A stiffening breeze caused Dan Mapleton’s potting boat, Lucky Lucy, to pitch and roll a few metres out from Polminan harbour. Whitewashed cottages in the quaint Cornish village glowed in evening sunshine and the clock on the church tower showed seven o’clock when Dan’s boat chugged into harbour. He cut the engine before tying up near concrete steps at the jetty. Herring gulls circled overhead, their screeching echoing around the community as they prepared to swoop on tasty morsels.
Tourists who’d flocked to that corner of south west England were enjoying a spell of warm June weather. Forecasters predicted that year would be the driest summer since records began. Sun worshippers lined ancient stone harbour walls, some munching fish and chips while admiring the view. Across the road, staff at The Mackerel Inn served thirsty customers seated around wooden tables outside.
Dan set about emptying the last wire and wood lobster pot into a plastic tray on the boat deck and stared in amazement when a strange object fell out, landing in the tray with a solid clunk. He picked up the curiously shaped thing—about the size of his hand—and turned it round and round. It wasn’t heavy but seemed metallic. A few taps and a good shake suggested it was hollow. Using a penknife to scrape away some algae revealed what looked like bronze. Hmm. Funny. Looks sort of oriental, Dan thought. Although encrusted with marine growth he wondered if it might be a statuette of something ancient.
He decided not to risk damaging his find and reckoned it’d be sensible to consult someone capable of identifying it. After locking the wheelhouse, Dan shoved the mysterious object into his trouser pocket, picked up the tray, climbed the steps to the jetty and headed to the local indoor market to deliver his meagre catch of crabs, a small lobster and a crawfish. As he approached, a strong aroma of fish wafted out. After spending a few minutes enjoying light-hearted banter with merchants, he headed to his nearby rented home, a tiny slate and stone one-bedroom cottage, named The Nook, in Bramble Lane.
He ducked in the cottage doorway to avoid banging his head on the low frame; being almost two metres tall sometimes caused problems inside the humble dwelling. He showered his slim, muscular body, tanned by years of working at sea, and shaved before brushing his short, greying fair hair, bending to see in the bathroom mirror. At forty-five years old, he wasn’t doing too badly looks-wise. After cleaning good white teeth, he went to the bedroom, wriggled into jeans and pulled on a shirt before picking up the intriguing little object from the dining room table.
“Right then. Let’s go and find out a bit about you,” Dan said to himself in a Home Counties accent, unchanged even after spending twenty years in Cornwall. He tossed the statuette from hand to hand before opening the door.
* * *
Mark Cunningham, landlord of The Mackerel Inn, glanced up from rearranging beer mats and coasters on the counter as Dan walked in and headed to a quiet corner in the cosy bar, which was renowned near and far for its wall displays of paintings and drawings depicting historical moments in the village’s maritime history. Pewter tankards, horse brasses and assorted memorabilia hung from blackened oak beams.
Sixty-year-old Mark, with a developing beer gut, hitched up lightweight cotton trousers and unbuttoned his short-sleeved shirt. Perspiration glistened on his brow. He watched his friend Dan place something behind a seat cushion before sauntering over to order a pint of lager at the bar.
“Hi Dan, how’s things?” The retired marine biologist’s crinkled face lit up and a huge grin stretched from ear to ear. They’d been close friends for many years, and he respected him. Only he and a few locals knew that Dan had moved to the village following tragic events. His mother, a garage forecourt attendant, was killed in an explosion when a car lost control and ploughed into the petrol pumps. Weeks later, his father, a carpenter, died from a heart attack after diving into a freezing lake and saving a child who’d fallen through the ice.
“Strange sort of day really,” Dan said, drumming his fingers on the bar. “Not much fish, but I did find something interesting.”
“Yeah?” Mark said, absently wiping the counter.
“If you have a moment, I’d like to get your opinion.”
Marked looked up, frowning. “I’m no expert on crabs, mate.”
“No, but you’ve spent years working in oceans around the world. I might have dredged an antique off the sea floor.”
Mark’s eyebrows rose. “Well I’ve often stumbled on some unusual bits and pieces. What sort of antique?”
“It’s over there,” Dan said, pointing to his chair in the corner.
“Really? Right, I’ll be over in a minute. The wife can cope now it’s not so busy. Usual?”
Dan nodded and the landlord pulled a pint of draught lager.
Sally Cunningham, Mark’s wife, smiled and called out, “Hi Danny,” as she bustled around collecting empty glasses. She was cheerful, easygoing, slightly overweight and always wore her dyed black hair in a ponytail.
As soon as Mark joined him, Dan plonked the statuette on the table. “This fell out of one of my pots this evening. What do you reckon?”
Mark picked it up. After scrutinising it, he declared, “Now this might well be very interesting. It’s probably quite old.”
“Any value?” enquired Dan hopefully.
“Maybe—it’s a Ganesh. But there’re thousands of them all over the world—some valuable, others just tacky souvenirs. I wouldn’t build your hopes . . .” He stopped talking abruptly for a moment, then exclaimed, “Hang on though—what’s this?”
With the statuette upside down in his lap, Mark’s fingers explored an uneven circular mark in the base. Eventually he said, “Ha! It’s a plug, so there’s a way to look inside. It’ll need opening with great care though—been sealed for goodness knows how long. I’ll go get my tool box.”
Mark returned with his specialist tools and slowly began clearing the statuette of marine growth. After a while, the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, appeared in well-preserved detail.
Dan gazed at his Ganesh blankly. “So what’s it all about?”
“Ganesha is a Hindu god,” Mark explained.
“Pity one of his tusks got broken.”
Mark laughed. “No, no. It’s supposed to be like that.”
“Why an elephant head anyway?”
Mark took a deep breath. “Briefly, Parvati, the wife of Shiva, wanted to take a bath while her husband was away so . . .”
“I thought Parvati was an Italian opera singer.”
“That was Pavarotti, idiot. Do you want to hear this story or not?”
“Sorry. Carry on.”
“Anyway, Parvati formed a young boy from clay. Her new son stood guard at the door as she bathed. Shiva returned and was angry to find a stranger guarding his home. He cut off the boy’s head and then . . .”
“No! Cut off the poor kid’s head? That’s terrible.”
“Just shut up. After discovering he’d killed his own son, Shiva rushed out to find a replacement head and the first one he came across was that of a young elephant. So he hacked it off, stuck it on the body of his son, Ganesha, and breathed life back into him.”
Having listened to the story, Dan shrugged his shoulders. “Well, that’s a bit dramatic. Where do you think my little Ganesh came from?”
Mark said, “Maybe there’s a clue inside. Give me a few minutes and we’ll find out.” He worked carefully with a small tool, scratching round the rim of the plug. “Right. Easy does it.” He gently eased the plug out and placed it on the table. Holding the statuette upside down, he shook it slightly and particles of dust fell out. “At least it remained watertight, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in here.” He reached inside his toolbox and picked up a torch. On directing the beam inside the Ganesh he murmured, “Oh! There is something—looks like paper or even parchment.”
“Probably just some stupid message to whoever finds it,” Dan muttered flatly.
“I think not. This looks fascinating.” Mark gingerly eased out a rolled up length of parchment and opened it with meticulous care on the table top. “It’s a map with wording in Portuguese. Something to do with Goa, India. It’s incredibly old I reckon. Here—you look.” He turned the map so Dan could read it.
“It’s got a few little crosses dotted about—like the ones in pirate and desert island movies. Surely this can’t be the key to hidden treasure?” Dan looked up expectantly.
Mark offered, “Who knows? One thing’s for sure though—we have to get these things examined properly. My guess is a deep sea chest from an old Portuguese sailing ship broke open—probably after the ship sank on a voyage from Goa to Portugal. Could have been as far back as the sixteenth century when the Portuguese colonised Goa.”
“Well I never. How come you know so much about that stuff? But I can’t see how anything could get that far in the water.”
Mark pondered on that observation then added, “You’re right. It’d be just about impossible for anything from that location to drift to these waters.”
“Right. Then this bronze thing probably disappeared from a ship bound for Britain—maybe it almost got here.” Dan declared enthusiastically.
Mark nodded. “Far more likely, but don’t let’s get carried away. It’ll take some time to get any feedback about the map from cartographers up in London. And you need to get that Ganesh looked at as well. We’ll set the wheels in motion first thing in the morning.”
* * *
Dan waited impatiently for news from London about his find over the next few days. One afternoon he decided to take a break from work and go somewhere to get away from routine. He drove his old Ford Transit van along a twisting lane close to cliff tops covered with brightly coloured lichens. He stopped and picked up his binoculars to view some puffins nesting in a crevice of an outcrop.
In Kensdown he pulled up at a parking bay off a narrow cobbled street lined with terraced cottages, each painted a different pastel shade. He walked to number seven, rang the bell and waited.
The door opened and a woman with grey wavy hair, a pleasant face and a flowered pinafore adorning her ample body greeted her unexpected visitor with delight. “Dan! Well! What a lovely surprise—come on in. How kind of you to drop by.”
Dan kissed her on the cheek. “Good to see you, Rosie. You look as lovely as ever.” He followed her in, closed the door and dropped into an armchair in the small sitting room.
“Still the same old flatterer. I’ll pop the kettle on. You must be ready for a cuppa.” She bustled off to the kitchen.
Dan crossed to the mantelshelf over an open fireplace and gazed at a framed photo of Katie Barnes, Rosie’s thirty-four-year-old daughter. Katie looked elegant in a full-length scarlet evening gown that highlighted her tall, slender body. Blonde wavy hair cascaded over her shoulders, blue eyes looked at Dan and shining red lips, slightly parted by a smile, highlighted dazzling white teeth. Dan sighed deeply, shook his head sorrowfully and swallowed hard.
Rosie appeared with refreshments, glanced at Dan still at the fireplace, and said, “Now come along, no use dwelling on it. What’s done is done.”
Dan slumped into his chair with a sigh but realised he must make an effort to brighten up. “I just miss her so much. Five years together and never an argument. It all comes down to my lack of cash. Who can blame her for taking off to backpack round the world?”
“Most young people do that these days, but I’m surprised Katie gave up that good career in . . . er . . .what’s it called?”
“That’s it. Can’t believe it was a year ago.”
“Perhaps I was too old for her after all,” Dan said.
“Never! Age and wealth don’t matter in a relationship. Just because you weren’t married didn’t change the fact you were perfect together. I’m sixty-three, been widowed for a few years and got used to being alone. But you two—well, I think Katie’s going to regret leaving you.”
Over tea and biscuits, Dan felt concerned for Katie on learning she hadn’t contacted her mother for a few weeks. “That’s most unusual. Maybe she’s just somewhere without internet.”
Rosie shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. She used to call on her cell phone in those circumstances. But nothing.”
“Perhaps she’s somewhere in the back of beyond where there isn’t any way of communicating. Do you know where she is?”
Tears welled in Rosie’s eyes. “No idea. Last I heard she was in the Philippines. Silly old me.” She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. “I’m just an old worrier. Anyhow, how are you these days?”
“Oh, you know—up and down. Life’s very drab without Katie around.”
“I bet you miss those special meals she cooked at weekends. She told me she’d never seen you so content. She really did love you, Dan. It’s all so weird.”
Dan lowered his gaze and said softly, “You’ve no idea how much I still love her, Rosie.”
They chatted for more than an hour and then Dan made ready to leave.
In the doorway Rosie said, “I’ll keep in touch and let you know as soon as Katie contacts me.”
“Please do that. I’ll worry until I know she’s okay.”
* * *
A week later, Ganesh and the map arrived back at The Mackerel Inn, and Mark Cunningham set about reading an accompanying report. Phew! Incredible. Almost unbelievable. Dan’s going to really freak out about this, he thought.
He picked up his phone and called Dan who was fishing just offshore. “Hey Dan! Your stuff’s back and I think you should get over here right away—too much to explain on the phone.” He listened then nodded. “Right, see you then.”
There weren’t any customers in the pub when Dan arrived. Mark, standing behind the bar, triumphantly waved statuette and map, shouting excitedly, “Better sit down. Prepare yourself for a shock.”
Dan hitched onto a barstool, wide-eyed. “Go on then, what’s the news?”
“In a nutshell, you might be onto something truly rewarding. The map isn’t as old as it looks. Seems it was made to look like sixteenth century but isn’t more than seventy years old.”
Dan let out a low whistle. “Would you believe it? Why would anyone do that?”
“It may well have been part of a plot to cover up an operation to smuggle a treasure of gold coins, silver, precious stones and ornaments. Apparently there’s some coding connected to the location of a hidden fortune in Goa. The theory is your Ganesh left Mormugao port in Goa on a ship bound for Lisbon during the Second World War.”
“Then that puts an end to the idea of it being washed up around here.”
“Not at all. Possibly the piece of bronze was transferred to a ship sailing to Britain but was lost when the vessel sank. If so, I’d guess British based accomplices never had a chance to discover the whereabouts of the prize.”
Dan took a few moments to absorb the story before venturing, “Why wasn’t the map posted by air or surface mail?”
Mark shrugged. “Maybe they thought in wartime there would have been too many agents, spies and government officials keen to intercept mail.”
“About the code. I take it nobody has a clue how to crack it? And it sounds like the bronze statuette isn’t worth much.”
“Correct on both counts unfortunately,” Mark confirmed. “But it’s early days and maybe we need to sniff around for clues to decipher that code. So thinking caps on and let’s take a closer look. For starters, the fact that Portugal and Goa were neutral during the war doesn’t mean the would-be smugglers were Portuguese.”
Dan offered, “They could have been from anywhere, taking an opportunity to shift valuables from one neutral place to another.”
“I’ve a hunch there’s a clue about nationality somewhere in that code. The Portuguese to English translation suggests a slight resemblance to British code formula used during wartime. We need help to dig deeper into that,” Mark said.
After making extensive enquiries for two days, Dan and Mark tracked down a former wartime cryptanalyst living in Penzance. He invited them to take the map to his home for scrutiny.
Ninety year-old Harry Renshaw was remarkably alert but his failing eyesight caused problems. He repositioned a bright reading lamp on his desk in the study of a rambling former vicarage. Dan and Mark watched anxiously from behind the expert as he hunched low over the map, using a powerful magnifying glass to examine the coded message.
“Mmm, quite interesting—indeed very interesting,” Harry Renshaw said softly. “You see, there was a similarity between German Enigma coding apparatus and our British Typex cipher machine. However, our Typex proved superior. Thanks to extra wheels and notches the code was declared unbreakable by the Germans.”
Mark asked, “So can you tell what sort of code we have here?”
Harry raised a hand. “Patience, gentlemen, give me time.” He continued studying the code, jotting down rows of numbers and letters on a sheet of paper.
Dan could hardly conceal his excitement and began tapping a foot on the floor impatiently. He thought Please let it be good news. Come on!
Eventually the cryptanalyst declared, “It’s very close to the British layout—give or take a few irregularities. It’s certainly not German.”
Fifteen minutes later Harry announced, “Well, well! I do believe we have an answer. You see, whoever wrote this code couldn’t have been completely familiar with how to do it properly. In fact, almost half the letters in every word seem not coded at all. I just need to decode the rest and all will be revealed.”
“We’ll pop outside for a while and leave you to get on with it,” said Mark.
“You’re welcome to sit in the garden and Mrs Peabody, my housekeeper, will bring you some cold drinks,” offered Harry.
Dan and Mark walked through a patio doorway and sat at a rustic table under a leafy tree in a lawn surrounded by well-tended flower borders. Birdsong filled the stonewalled garden.
Mrs Peabody placed chilled lemonade, nibbles and some newspapers on the table. “There you go, gentlemen. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you need anything else.” She beamed broadly, turned and walked back to the house.
Suddenly Dan started thinking about Katie Barnes. He was becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of any news. Doesn’t make sense. She’d never deliberately fail to keep in touch with her mother, he thought, his face taking on a glum expression.
Almost an hour later Harry Renshaw appeared and called out triumphantly, “I’m delighted to tell you I’ve successfully completed the task. Come along, gentlemen, come and see.”
Harry’s two visitors followed him back to the study, sat and leaned forward expectantly as the old man read out information contained on the map.
Harry cleared his throat. “Apparently this pinpoints the location of hidden treasure somewhere in Goa, India. Some words are still in Portuguese but that’s not surprising given the place used to be run by that country. A ruined fort named Cabo De Soldado—Cape Of The Soldier, in English—holds clues to the exact location of the hoard.”
Dan gasped. “Does it say how to get to this fort?”
Harry nodded. “Indeed. It’s close to a village called Repousante, meaning Restful, in southern Goa. The district—taluka—is known as Salcete.”
Dan shot out of his chair and punched the air exuberantly. “Yes! Oh boy, I can hardly believe it!”
Mark cut in with, “Steady, Dan. You don’t exactly have your hands on a fortune yet. Even if you did find the bounty, you’d not be allowed to take it out of India. When I was working in the Arabian Sea years ago, I heard a story about priceless treasure going missing from one of the oldest Hindu temples in Goa. Rumours spread that the Supreme Court of India had approved an enormous reward for the safe return of the sacred hoard. I’ll research that when we get home and see if it’s true. So, be patient. Anyway, there’s the small matter of getting out there and being able to stay indefinitely. We’ll need a lot of money.”
Harry offered, “Perhaps you’d like me to write the full translation in English to store with the map.”
Dan nodded. “Oh yes please, that’s very important.”
As soon as the additional document was ready, Dan and Mark thanked Harry profusely and left.
On arriving at The Mackerel Inn, Dan enjoyed a pint at the bar while Mark searched online for information about the alleged reward on offer in India.
After a few minutes Mark exclaimed, “Here it is! Yes, the reward is still up for grabs. Good grief! It can’t be that much. One hundred and seventy-five million Indian rupees. Let’s do a quick conversion.” He opened a currency conversion website and typed in the figures. “That’s about two million pounds!”
“Whew! Why so much?” Dan wanted to know.
“Just getting the sacred property back is of paramount importance. Enormous wealth accumulated over centuries from the contributions of ‘devotees’. Keep in mind this temple, called Napahadram, is one of only two that escaped destruction during the Portuguese era. New temples sprang up later.”
Dan raised his tankard and declared, “I’m off! The obvious thing to do first is sell my boat. It should fetch around twenty thousand pounds so I’ll advertise it right away.”
“Maybe . . .” Mark hesitated. “Maybe we could sell the story to the local media. They’re always on the lookout for unusual material. Mind you, we say nothing about the map, hidden treasure or rewards—that’d be rather foolish.”
* * *
A television news team arrived at Polminan harbour the next morning. Curious onlookers gathered to watch a camera and microphones being set up on the deck of Lucky Lucy.
Before filming began, an attractive female reporter explained, “Okay, Mr Mapleton. I’ll just ask a few questions and you may answer any way you wish, okay?”
“Sure, go ahead. But keep it simple.”
During the interview, Dan explained the theory about how the Ganesh eventually washed up in British waters, but revealed nothing about the contents of the object as he held it up for viewers to admire.
The story featured on both national and local news programmes that evening.
* * *
Indian born Vinay Subram stopped eating spicy lentil dhal from a bowl on the dining table in his East London terraced house. The early evening news on the TV caught the retired railway worker’s attention when the newsreader mentioned a minor story from Cornwall about a local fisherman recovering a bronze Ganesh statuette from coastal waters.
“Hey, listen to this, Geena. It sounds just like that thing your father kept on about for years.” Vinay increased the TV volume on the remote control. “You remember? When he worked at Mormugao Harbour in Goa during the war.”
His wife, Geena, shrugged. “Don’t be silly. We all know old Naveen Mahajan loved telling tales to anyone who’d listen. Now eat your dinner. Anyway, even my mother got bored with the same old story.”
Vinay objected with, “That’s because your mother was British. She didn’t understand our family properly. I’m telling you there may well be a connection to Naveen’s account of what he witnessed.”
With a sigh, Geena gave in. “Okay, go on; remind me again if you must.”
Her husband leaned forward enthusiastically. “Naveen discovered how a criminal gang stole treasure from a Hindu temple in Goa and hid it somewhere in the province. He also found out the gang had a map made and hidden inside a Ganesh statuette. They placed the bronze in a crate of merchandise on a Portugal-bound ship in Mormugao Harbour. In Lisbon it was transferred to a ship going to England but sank en route so accomplices in England never laid hands on the clue to the whereabouts of the treasure.”
Geena remained silent for a few moments, a pained look on her face. Quietly she said, “Why oh why do we have all this cloak and dagger stuff going on in our family? Father wasn’t a criminal—just tempted to help himself to a fortune if the opportunity cropped up.” She brushed tears from her cheeks. “Not like our son—our own son—in prison right now for thieving and goodness knows what else.”
Vinay nodded. “Yes, it is so sad. But we did our best. His mental health problems make things very difficult. When he gets out, we’ll help him start a new life. It’s time he found a wife and settled down. We’ll go and visit John again tomorrow.”
“At least we can tell him all about this fuss in Cornwall over a little bit of metal. That should cheer him up,” Geena added.
* * *
John Subram impatiently paced his cell, waiting for prison officers to unlock the door and lead him to freedom. Now thirty-six, the medium built, moustached man of Indian descent with black hair and dark eyes had completed a five-year sentence for armed robbery and causing grievous bodily harm to a security guard at a suburban London bank.
Since his parents told him about the Ganesh statuette being washed up in Cornwall his brain had been working overtime. He was hell-bent on beating that fisherman to the prize and already had the first steps planned.
* * *
Sleeping was difficult. Dan tossed and turned in bed while his brain churned through much of what was happening: would there be a better offer for his boat than a bid of sixteen thousand pounds? The meagre two hundred pounds from the TV company wouldn’t go very far.
His phone rang. Who on Earth is phoning at this time of night? he thought drowsily, fumbling in darkness for his mobile, which he habitually kept in a transparent waterproof pouch due to spending so much time at sea. Blearily squinting he discovered it was Rosie Barnes calling at three o’clock in the morning. “Something’s happened to Katie!” he gasped while connecting. “Rosie! What’s wrong?”
“Oh Dan, I’m so sorry to wake you at this hour but it’s Katie. The girl who was travelling with her in the Philippines just called to say she hasn’t heard from Katie for ages. It seems Katie decided to go on alone weeks ago. I’m beside myself with worry. I must tell the police. Can you come over, Dan? Please!”
“Of course, I’ll come straight away. Try not to get too upset, Rosie. I’m sure it’ll be alright.” He quickly dressed, grabbed the van keys and a torch, hurried outside and locked the cottage door.
Firmly gripping the steering wheel, Dan navigated along torturous roads at high speed, headlights picking out large boulders partly concealed by undergrowth as he approached sharp bends. Tyres screeched when he needed to brake abruptly.
Rosie tearfully greeted her visitor and ushered him indoors, wailing, “I haven’t phoned the police yet because I don’t know if it’s better to wait until morning then go to the police station.”
“We’ll visit the police station at first light and file a missing person report,” Dan assured her.
* * *
August arrived and John Subram was infuriated to learn that his fake passport wouldn’t be ready until early September, then he would need to obtain a three-month visa for India. Using a computer in the back bedroom at his parent’s London home in the early hours, he opened Google search, typed Polminan and jotted down the village location in a notebook. Next he typed Cornish fisherman finds Ganesh statuette in lobster pot. Several references appeared and he studied one that carried the most detail concerning a television news report.
“Brilliant! Just what I was looking for,” he said softly. “Dan Mapleton. Lives alone in a Polminan cottage. Boat name Lucky Lucy. That’ll do nicely for starters.” He wrote the information in the book. “Right, Mr clever dick Mapleton, little do you know what’s about to happen.” Subram chuckled and closed down the computer.
Next morning he travelled by train from Paddington to Penzance, took a bus to Polminan and checked in at Sunrise Lodge Hotel.