The Goa Connection – Chapter 4
Dan arrives in Goa and starts planning his first moves to find the loot. Bad weather – and a bad guy – throw things off course.
Extreme heat and high humidity greeted Dan as he emerged from arrivals at Dabolim Airport in Goa at three o’clock in the afternoon during mid September. Thankful he’d decided to travel in shorts and short-sleeved shirt, he trundled his baggage to a taxi rank as perspiration ran down his face.
A beaming taxi driver asked, “Where you going?”
“Repousante. How long will it take?”
“About one hour.” The taxi man loaded the bags while Dan got into the cool air-conditioned white saloon car.
The cab moved away from the airport to a main road and joined a constant stream of cars, trucks, buses, scooters and tuk-tuks, all honking horns frequently for no apparent reason. Dan leaned forward in his seat, marvelling at the sight of bullock carts and cows mingling with traffic. Stray dogs prowled, yapping at anything that moved. Women in colourful saris balanced heavy loads on their heads as they walked along the roadsides. After leaving the main road, the route took them south along narrow twisting lanes just off the coast towards the province of Salcete. Recent monsoon rains had restored the countryside to a lush green paradise. They passed numerous Portuguese colonial style properties; many of them single-storey mansions with wrought-iron balconies, shady porches, oyster-shell windows and central inner courtyards.
“Nice houses,” Dan remarked.
The driver told him, “Most were built in the early eighteenth century, as rewards to wealthy Goan merchants and officials for their services to the Portuguese.”
“I need to get some rupees,” Dan said. “Can we stop at a money exchange office?”
“No problem, sir.”
Lofty coconut palms grew in profusion all around and many homes had large piles of nuts and husks outside their doors. Villages, built on both sides of the road, all seemed to have schools, banks, fish markets, shops, barbers, bars, temples and churches. In contrast to the Portuguese mansions, properties were plain concrete structures or simple wooden huts with palm frond roofs. Cows, bulls, pigs, chickens, ducks, cats and dogs made up a goodly percentage of the population.
In a larger village, geared for tourism, the taxi pulled up outside a money exchange office and Dan bought some rupees.
After moving off again, the driver said, “Only about five more minutes to Repousante now. In a moment we’ll see Cabo De Soldado above the village.”
Dan’s heart started racing at the prospect of seeing the place, but he casually remarked, “Oh really? Okay.” When the fort came into view on a cliff top, he simply said, “So that’s the place.” He watched sea eagles soaring above the ruins and monkeys scampering between clumps of vegetation on the western side of the fortress.
At crossroads, the taxi turned right into the village, moving slowly along a street lined with bars, restaurants and a variety of shops, many of which were open-fronted and draped with colourful textiles and clothing. Only a trickle of tourists ambled around because the monsoon season extended into September. The English translation, Restful, didn’t seem to quite fit. Reaching the village outskirts, the taxi continued towards Repousante beach for a hundred metres or so then turned left into a private driveway where it stopped at elaborately designed iron gates. Villa Maranda was a two-storey building resplendent in a variety of pastel shades. A shiny people carrier occupied a detached garage.
Dan paid the fare, retrieved his luggage, climbed a few steps to a spacious porch and rang the bell to the side of heavy panelled double doors.
Both doors opened and a smiling Indian woman with black wavy hair stepped out. She appeared to be in her forties, was quite slim and dressed in western-style sleeveless summer dress and flat shoes. Gold earrings, necklace, bracelet and several rings on her fingers glistened. “Ah! You must be Mr Mapleton; I’ll show you to your room, this way.” Her English was perfect. “I’m Maranda Rodrigues.” She led the way down the porch steps and across a paved courtyard to an annexe. “I’ve given you room number three on the ground floor because it’s the largest with both porch and side balcony.” She unlocked the door and Dan went in.
“Oh, this is fine.” He looked around the brightly decorated double-bedded room with ample furniture and storage cupboards. He inspected the shower room and toilet, nodding approvingly.
Maranda opened a door to the balcony. “Take a look, Mr Mapleton. It is very peaceful with a nice view.”
“Oh please call me Dan.” He stepped outside to a shady balcony with branches of a papaya tree overhanging. The view extended beyond rice paddies to the beach. “Yes, very nice indeed.” He pointed up to a cliff. “Cabo De Soldado looks fascinating. I must go and explore tomorrow.”
“Oh, didn’t you know it’s been closed due to landslips? I’m afraid the public aren’t allowed anymore.” Maranda took a deep breath. “I might as well tell you. Sadly, my husband was killed up there last year. He was a keen amateur archaeologist and fell down the cliff face when the ground disappeared under his feet.”
“Oh I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s terrible.” Immediately after expressing condolences, Dan’s mind raced with the implications. Now what? I can’t give up. I must get into the place somehow.
Maranda said, “Anyway, I’ll leave you to settle in. Don’t hesitate to come up to the villa if there’s anything I can help you with. No doubt you’ll need the password for Wi-Fi.
Dan replied, “That’s very kind. I’ll do that.”
After unpacking and showering, Dan walked over to the villa, where Maranda greeted him on the porch. “Hello again, can I tempt you to a cup of tea? I’ve just made a fresh brew.”
“Mmm, yes please—proper Indian tea at last.” He sat at the table and Maranda served tea.
The polite conversation included Maranda speaking sadly about her late husband. “We had plans to spend time travelling abroad, but it wasn’t to be. He loved exploring historic places. I remember his last words to me so clearly—something he said as he left here to go up to the fort. ‘I’m hoping to find out for sure today whether there really is a shaft beneath that cannon.’ Those were his exact words.”
Dan stiffened, hardly believing what he’d just heard. “Er, sorry? Shaft? Cannon?”
“Yes, he’d mentioned the possibility after an earlier visit. Something about the ground under some flagstones around the cannon seeming somewhat unusual.”
Once alone back in his room, Dan telephoned Mark Cunningham in Cornwall. “Hi Mark! I’ve checked in and already have an amazing lead on where to start looking. I’ll email more details later. Remember not to say a word to anybody about where I am or what’s going on. Catch you later.”
* * *
The next afternoon, sweat glistened on John Subram’s brow through fear of capture as he waited for what seemed an eternity at Goa airport immigration. He hitched up baggy khaki shorts and nervously smoothed creases in his faded T-shirt.
A uniformed official studied his fake passport closely. “I see this was issued less than two weeks before getting the visa for India.” He stared inquisitively at the new arrival, flicking through the passport’s pages. “That’s quite unusual.”
Subram swallowed hard. “Sure. I went in person to the consular office in London.”
“And you say you’re staying with a friend called Lorso Valdares who’s a Goan resident?”
“You have a tourist visa. Are you here for leisure or business purposes?”
“Oh, purely leisure; just spending time with Lorso, who I haven’t seen for years.”
“So you’ve been here before.”
“N-no, no. He came to the UK a while back—to visit family over there.” Immediately, Subram regretted telling another lie. I shouldn’t have said that. Now they’ll check, he thought as his heart pumped.
Unexpectedly, with passport safely returned, the official waved him through.
* * *
Just before sunset, Dan settled in a chair on his balcony at Villa Maranda and spread the treasure map of Cabo De Soldado on a coffee table. He scrolled through pages of an eBook guide to Goa on his tablet, stopping at an article about the fort. Occasionally he glanced up to the actual remains, clearly visible from where he sat, familiarising himself with the layout.
He read some history and viewed photos, discovering it was first occupied by Hindu rulers who spread their empire all over India. The fort had exchanged hands between Hindu, Muslim and Portuguese rulers and had seen some of the most gruesome battles of all time. There was little to see of the old structure except the blackened stone ruined front rampart with its dry moat and main gate. A crumbling turret once housed a Portuguese cannon, but the gun now lay neglected on the ground. Ah! That’s it! Exactly as Maranda described it.
According to markings on the map, the treasure could be in any of several locations spread among the ruins, including under the cannon. Why so many markings? Perhaps they’re just to mislead if the map happened to fall into the wrong hands. So there must be a subtle difference in this one mark on the cannon. Dan studied the map closely, turning it to catch light in different ways. Yes! There it is—you’d never think of looking for that under normal circumstances. All the marks were uniform size crosses in the shape of the Latin X. However, the one marking the cannon had a minuscule circle in the centre.
When a feeling of euphoria had subsided, there remained an enormous challenge now that the place was out of bounds and highly dangerous. Dan decided to start as soon as possible. First, he needed to find a route up to the fort, one where he had the best chance of going unnoticed. According to photos in the guidebook, a narrow footpath from the beach wound up the cliff to a corner of the perimeter walls. It seemed well screened by trees for much of the way, unlike the ruins, visible for miles from all directions. He opted to go by night, relying on a torch to guide him. Once there, he’d decide what sort of tools were needed to carry out the hunt and hoped to be able to get them locally without arousing suspicion.
The sun turned into a large crimson fireball as it sank quickly to the horizon in the Arabian Sea. Dan watched in awe as a small Goan fishing boat, a wooden single outrigger, slowly moved across the sun, perfectly silhouetted. The sky took on varying shades of red, orange and blue as twilight fell. Completely mesmerised, feeling as if in a trance, his thoughts drifted to Katie Barnes and tears welled in his eyes. Where are you, Katie? If only you knew… he sighed deeply.
The decision to tackle the fort at night turned out to be a bad idea because when daylight faded, floodlights blazed over the historic remains, turning the area into a vivid orange spectacle.
Dan moaned in frustration. Now what? There has to be a way, he thought grimly.
* * *
Lorso Valdares drove a battered old wartime jeep with a canopy along a steep bumpy track behind Cabo De Soldado. The beam from headlights picked out numerous large potholes, and Valdares spun the wheel in fruitless efforts to avoid hitting them. Born in Goa, the dark-skinned, thickset middle-aged dockyard worker cursed fervently on every impact.
Sitting in the passenger seat, John Subram braced himself against the dashboard each time a sickening thud erupted through the floor. He said sarcastically, “Are you sure this wreck actually has any suspension left?”
“Listen, you should be grateful I’m so well connected at Mormugao. This jeep belongs to a crane operator who’ll be hoisting that treasure chest aboard a ship going to Lisbon.”
“Ha! You make it sound easy. Who’s going to be in Portugal to take it off?”
Valdares replied, “Me, of course. I’m very fortunate to have a Portuguese passport.”
Subram remained quiet, mulling over the implications. By the time everyone’s had their share, there won’t be much left to enjoy. I might have to be a bit greedy later. Shouldn’t be a big problem to cut this fellow out—one way or the other—once he’s done the hard bit, he thought darkly. Eventually he asked, “Did you get that shooter?”
Valdares nodded. “Under my seat.”
Subram rummaged for the gun, found it wrapped in a cloth, took it out and inspected it. “Oh, an Indian special, eh? Made by the Indian Ordnance Factory,” he said, pointing at an IOF logo on the grip of a .32 calibre, 6 shot revolver. “Spare ammo?”
“Of course—under your seat,” Valdares confirmed.
The spare ammunition came in a leather cartridge belt holding 25 bullets. “Let’s hope we don’t need all of them,” snarled Subram.
On nearing the top of the track, both men stared in disbelief at the brightly floodlit fort. “What the…” Valdares braked hard.
“Looks like you didn’t do your homework too well, my friend. Now what?” Subram seethed.
Rubbing his stubbly chin, Valdares thought for a moment before suggesting, “We’ll have to knock those lights out somehow.”
“Oh sure—just like that. You’re talking as though we’re gonna strike gold on our first visit. Do you think the people around here are going to sit around every night without bothering to find out why the lights keep going out?” Subram’s voice carried a menacing tone. “I’m beginning to think it was a mistake to link up with you. Right, turn round and let’s get out of here. We’ll think of something else.”
Sulking, Valdares manoeuvred the jeep round and remained silent during the short journey to a small, rundown, palm frond roofed house. The property stood completely isolated on farmland about half a kilometre off the road. Another of Valdares’ workmates at the docks made the place available after it became vacant following his father’s demise.