Over the Ceu Sea.

5 Jul

The stranger does not speak coastal Portuguese, went the rumor in the village of Sagres. He is an islander, a biologista here to study our fish. Why should a big city man have interest in our peixes? laughed Diego, the veteran sardinha fisherman. He did not foresee that the ichthyologist would seek him out and ask for his aid.

“Pardon me, are you Diego Machado?” said the lanky young man with light yellow skin and piercing cerulean eyes.

The white-haired old man looked up from the net he was repairing.

“That is me, yes. What can I do for you?” He sprang to his feet from his work stool with the vigor of a strong athlete. The fisherman would have stood quite short had his posture not been so rigidly erect.

“My name is Gil Bahia.” He offered his hand to the pescador, which the latter vigorously shook. “I am a biologista come here to study the varieties of fish native to the Ceu Sea. It is my plan to go out on a deep water barco. I understand that you are one of the few fishers who go out that far.”

“That is where the best sardinha are found,” muttered the old man.

“I am able to pay well if you take me out with your crew, sir,” said the scientist. “It is my intention to stay out of everyone’s way.”

Diego’s dark eyes sized up the city man with this odd request.

“Tomorrow morning we go out before the aurora,” he reported. “Be on the dock, ready to sail.”

Acquamarine light suffused the sky, reflecting off the mirror-like surface of the water. The morning, brilliantly young, overwhelmed the barco’s passenger. He had never before experienced such an enticing panorama as the open sea under the rising sun star.

Gil stayed out of the way of the three crewmen and the capitao, Diego Machado. His seat in the bow gave him an unimpeded view of the fishermen’s preparatory work as well as the smooth, continuous greenish water of the Ceu Sea.

“What do you think?” asked the owner of the barco, stepping back from his crew and the nets they were dropping overboard. “Are you ready to see how we make our morning catches?”

Gil gave a smile. “That is what I am here for.”

Suddenly, he saw something in the distance falling from the sky.

Diego, noticing this, turned his head about.

“Only a paraquesdas,” said the old man, grinning at the biologista.

“Someone is parachuting into the sea at this early hour?”

Machado’s face became flint-like.

“How do you think the contrabandistas bring their cargos down?” he asked. “No one can stop the aeronaves above the stratosphere from dropping their illegal loads. We see them all the time.”

“The policia can do nothing?”

“That is the truth. I hear there is great toxicomania inland, that drogas are in great demand there.” Diego stared into the whitish eyes of his passenger.

“Yes, narcotics are widespread in the towns and cities,” replied Gil. “It would appear that most of the toxico is transported by aviaos. The Ceu Sea must be the conduit over which most of it flows.”

The pescador frowned. “I know of local boaters who seek out these droga cargos and lift them out of the waters with strong, heavy nets.” His voice was low and guarded. “For years, criminosos have tried to entice and draw me into their dirty business.”

Without any success, realized Bahia inside his own inner mind. You have the personal honor and honesty of the traditional coastals, Diego. The contrabandistas can never one of your character and mettle.

“The smugglers must be enjoying great prosperity, then,” said the biologist.

“Some have indeed become rich men,” grimaced the fisherman. “The top patron in that trade is Juan Almeida. We knew each other very well when we were both young. I sold a lot of sardinhas to him in the days he was only a small peixero.”

“He began as a fish dealer?”

“Juan’s father transported ice wagons inland. His son began as a fish-buyer. Now he is a large wholesaler whose chief trade lies in drogas and toxicos thrown into the mar from out of the sky.”

“Interesting,” muttered Gil, almost to himself.

“You have, I suppose, seen his casa. It is the gigantic white mansao that looks out over Sagres from the crest of the coastal hill.”

“I have seen it, yes. The building sits atop the high, steep morro.”

“That is home and headquarters to Almeida, the unseen lord of all he views from up there.” Diego suddenly looked away. “Step sternwise, to the popa. I want you to watch as we draw in our first morning catch.”

Alfredo Diaz steered his black automovel up the spiraling road to the summit of the towering outero. He had been in leisure civvies when the telefone call came summoning him to the white casa. It had taken him time to throw on his white uniform. What was so important as to make Juan Almeido compel him to dress up and hurry on this hot, humid day? The matter had to be something urgent and pressing, no doubt about that.

The road wound through stands of sicomoros and ciprestes, then passed by cedros and pinheiros.

Chefe Diaz parked his vehicle near the entrance of the outer wall, then went to the gate and rang the announcer bell. He identified himself and the huge oaken door swung open. It was only steps to the mansion entrance, where the butler in blue suit stood in the doorway. He nodded welcome, then led Diaz to the study of his master.

Almeido’s large torso filled a cushioned swivel chair from which he did not rise. Curly black hair hung down on all sides of his massive, rocklike head. There was something fearsome and threatening in the rich man’s purplish eyes.

“Sit down,” he commanded the visitor.

The short man in white took a plain leather chair.

“We have an espiao in Sagres,” began the arch-smuggler. “What do you know about the supposed scientist? And what do you intend to do about him?”

For a moment, the police official was speechless with surprise.

“I have received no warning from any of my sources. What you say is all new to me, sir. In fact, I am astounded at the news.”

Juan Almeido made a sour face. “You have become lazy, Alfredo. This person should never have come here unnoticed by you. I am disappointed, deeply saddened by your negligence.” He made a hard, guttural noise in his throat.

“Is the spy some sort of undercover detective from the capital?”

“Not at all.” replied he fat man. “My friends in the city report that the man is not a policial or official investigador of any kind. In fact, he has not had any contact with the Ministry of Police. The fellow intends to act as a free-lance on his own. That makes him all the more dangerous to me.”

“I don’t quite understand…” murmured Diaz.

“The biologista is a former toximano who conquered his addiction. Such individuals are deadly enemies of the commerce I am engaged in. Who can say how dangerous are the ideas in the imbecile’s head? Or what acts he plans to commit?”

“What should I do, then?” asked the troubled chief, his brow furrowing.

“For now, watch and observe his every move. Let him realize that he is recognized for what he is. In fact, introduce yourself, Alfonso. Tell the man that you suspect him of involvement with toxicos, that he is here to purchase illicit substances for himself.”

The two of them stared at each other silently.

Diaz finally excused himself and departed from the residencia of the magnata.

Its hull packed with sardinhas, the barco made for the Sagres dock.

Gil stood in the proa, facing the capitao.

“It has been a fascinating morning for me. Not just the sardinhas, but the larger peixes as well. I saw bacalau cod and anchova in the nets, and even a large salmao. There were enormous cavala mackerals and trutas in the water, too. It has given me great pleasure to be aboard with you, Diego.”

The latter unexpectedly laughed. “You know fish very well, my friend, but the knowledge is from the library and museum. Here, in my boat, you will have direct contact with living sea creatures.” All at once, his face became serious. “If you look to the right, you can see the casa of Juan Almeido, perched like a white dove overlooking the village.”

Bahia did just that, moving his head to one side. There it was, the casa of the foremost contrabandista. The poisoner of brains, the ruiner of lives. His mortal foe.

“Come to my cabin tonight,” invited Diego. “I will serve you an ostra stew.”

Gil accepted, thanking him for his hospitality.

As his lone tenant entered the Sagres Inn, the rolly-polly little owner rushed up to the biologist. “I had to let him into your room, sir. He is sitting there, waiting to speak with you. Do not be alarmed, there is no trouble. The chief only wishes to see and meet you.”

Disoriented and disturbed, Gil made for his quarters in the rear of the building.

What was this about?

The door was left wide open. A short man in a beige sports suit rose from one of the two chairs in the room and stepped forward, offering his hand.

“How are you, sir? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Alfonso Diaz, the superintendent of police in this district. This is an informal, I might say personal, visit. It is in no way connected to my office or occupation. It would appear that the two of us have interests in common.

“Why don’t we take a short walk along the beach? No one can overhear us there.”

Gil managed to give the officer a nod, then flowed him down the hallway, through the tavern, and out into the main street of Sagres.

When they reached the sand of the shore, Diaz turned to his walking companion.

“Which direction shall we take, the right or the left?”

“It doesn’t matter at all,” replied Bahia. “You may decide that for both of us.”

The chief pointed to the right, then led the way along the periphery of th praia shore. Greenish blue light flooded the far horizon of the Ceu Sea.

Gil noted that they were passing under the rochedo cliff with the gleaming white casa.

“How are you enjoying your stay here, sir?” said the police principal.

Gil peered sidewise at him. “This has been delightful for an ichthyologist like myself. I have been examining and studying living fish right from their natural habitat, the sea. That has given me knowledge impossible to obtain any other way. It is a unique experience for one in my field.”

“You went out on old Diego’s craft, I understand,” said Diaz.

“Indeed. We just returned with his morning catch. It was a marvelous, magnificent experience for me.”

All at once, the little man in the beige suit stopped and faced Gil, who also came to an abrupt halt.

“I have leaned many facts of interest, Mr. Bahia. For example, that you are a rehabilitated toxicomano. That must present enormous problems for a person. How can anyone be certain that there will be no retreat or backsliding? I have heard that it is extremely difficult for one such as you to stay on a straight path and not stray off of it. There are many temptations and pitfalls all around. How strong is your determination not to return to your past?”

His coppery eyes strained at Gil with the intensity of a reptile.

“I have, so far, had complete success in defeating what I consider to have been my unfortunate illness,” claimed Gil. “My hope remains to continue this personal health program. Every day of freedom from toxico is a victory for me. It is as if I have been reborn.”

“Good,” exclaimed Diaz with force. “I am glad to hear that. My presumption, then, is that you are not in Sagres to obtain illegal droges.”

“No, of course not,” returned the visitor with unconcealed anger.

“I am trying to eradicate all trade in those materials, Mr. Bahia. Yet the smuggling from the sea continues. It is impossible to stamp out all contrabandista activity. We try, but there is a limit to what is practical. I know the coastal region better than anyone. There is no need for outsiders to come here and meddle, for those matters are well under control. In other words, I keep a lid on what is allowed to go on. Understand?”

Gil felt obligated to give an affirmative nod.

“I advise you to be very careful of your associations in the village, my friend. Today you sailed out on the barco of Diego Machado. I have been keeping a vigilant eye on him for years. Although he has not been caught till now, I have grave suspicions concerning that man.”

The listener gaped. “He is involved in smuggling?”

“There is no definite proof at least until this moment. But keep your eyes open. Do not become too involved with the man. He can cause you terrible harm.”

Gil Bahia was unable to say a word.

The pair walked back to the village in tense silence.

Suspicion grows and spreads like a cancer in the mind. So realized the biologist, approaching the beach cottage on the edge of Sagres. How was he to hide the thoughts planted by the chefe of policia with such adroit cleverness?

A turquoise twilight spread its darkening light over sea and sky in a glorious crepuscule.

Diego was standing at the open door of the simple little structure he called home. He waved a hand as the biologista neared him.

“I am so glad to see you,” said the old man, shaking his hand energetically. “Come in and you shall taste ostras the way our ancestors prepared them in our original Portuguese homeland.”

The pair went into the main room of the stucco cottage, Diego pointed to a wooden chair by a large, carved oaken table. He then served his guest the oyster stew he had cooked for him. When both men were seated, they began to eat with appetite.

“This is marvelously delicious,” said Gil. “You are a skilled cook of seafood, Diego.”

Machado gave a grin. “Take a sip of the vermelho vinho,” he suggested. “It goes well with the stew. I recommend that you taste some other creatures that dwell in the sea. Many people love to eat the polvo that inlanders call an octopus, ot our lula squid. At least once a year I eat fried engula eel. Of course, the villagers here collect the easily available lagostas and carangueajos from the beiramar.Our beaches are full of these lobsters and crabs.”

Bahia spoke as he chewed and swallowed. “It is a very abundant life that nature provides the people on the coast. The Ceu Sea is like a loving mother, generous and provident in every way.” He hesitated a second. “If only there were no droga trade.”

Diego looked up at him with a scowl on his face.

“This would be a paradise, if it wasn’t for Almeida and his criminal organization. He has become a milionario by exploiting the addictions of the inland toxicomanos. His enterprises dominate all commercial activities in Sagres. It is a monopolizing bloodsucker that drains off the wealth produced in our region.”

“What can be done about this situation?” asked Gil.

The fisherman frowned. “No one dares to talk or act against the monster who rules us like a lord. He holds the village terrorized. The chefe of policia is in the man’s pocket and does his bidding for him.”

Gil decided he had to be open. “I had a visit from Diaz this afternoon.”

“What did that lackey want?” asked the other with surprise.

“He gave me several pointed warnings.”

“Concerning what, may I inquire?”

“Oh, mainly about trying to obtain illegal toxicos for my personal use. He told me to be wary of you, Diego.”

The latter swallowed hard. “Me? What did he say about me?”

“I was quite astounded by what he told me. Diaz suspects you of engaging in smuggling.”

“That corrupt cur! He is the one who protects and facilitates the narcotic trade of his master.” All of a sudden, Machado rose from his chair and stepped over to his dinner guest, gazing squarely into his cerulean eyes.

“What do you think? Am I capable of being a retriever or carrier of toxico cargos?” He pouted his lips and stiffened. “I have, from the beginning, refused to work for Almeido. That is why the criminoso hates and fears me. And now he tries to separate us through the false words of his policial tool.”

“I suspected there was an ulterior motive involved in his accusation. You are clearly not a smuggler, Diego.”

“But I am,” whispered the fisherman.

Gil stared at him in astonishment. “You just told me…”

“Let me reveal the truth,” calmly stated the pescador. “One may be a contrabandista without connection to Almeido and his filthy business. I have never gone after the paraquesdases that carry prohibited drugs. My cargos are totally different. Mostly technical crystals and optical maquinas. There is a ready market for such wares in the big cities of the interior. Although these imports are illegal, they do not harm individuals the way drogas do.”

The two men studied each other.

“I see,” whispered Bahia. “Forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive.”

With that, Diego returned to his chair and finished eating.

The idea came to Gil as he gazed out at the greenish blue mar the following morning from the popa of the fishing boat.

Machado had taken his crew far out into deep water, to a spot where a special “bundle” was expected to descend. Word of the shipment had arrived only days before from a peixeiro in contact with electronic dealers in the capital. There would be good payment to Diego and his helpers for rescuing the scheduled paraquedas drop.

“There it falls!” yelled out a crewman, the first to see the tiny spot in the greenish sky. The glare of the sun star almost made it invisible.

It took only minutes to position the barco directly beneath the descending umbrella of fine microthread. The falling object grew large and distinct, splashing down into the sea a short distance from the barca rushing to meet it.

Diego directed his men in lifting the load out of the water with nets and ropes. Within less than four minutes, the contraband goods were aboard, covered with tarpaulin. Gil decided it was time to reveal the scheme he had devised in the back of his mind.

“I would like to have you hear a possible way to defeat Almeido and his gang,” he told the capitao, causing the latter to look at him with surprise and astonishment.

“Go ahead. What are you thinking of doing?”

The biologist bit his lower lip. “Why is it you are able to resist the enticements of the toxico trade, Diego?”

“I have something else to catch and deliver, that’s why.” He sent Bahia a questioning look. “What are you getting at, Gil?”

“Do the Pescadores who work for Almeido make much profit for all the risks that they take?”

“No. The cur exploits them without mercy. But they are too afraid of him to refuse the terms he gives. Diaz helps keep them in line, doing their assigned tasks for the master contrabandista.”

“What if we could change those conditions, though?” murmured Gil Bahia. “What if the others became like you, my friend?”

The white-haired fisherman stared intently at his passenger.

“It will not be easy to accomplish,” he thoughtfully asserted. “How can we convince the others to take such a risk?”

Gil had an answer ready. “I want you to present a proposal for an exponential increase in technological smuggling to the people you deal with. Tell them the pescodores of Sagres will be able to supply them with a gigantic volume of parachuted imports.”

“But we do not know that we are able to do that,” objected Machado.

“One phase at a time,” the other assured him. “Once your business contacts have agreed to it, you will find it much easier to convince the other fishermen to go along with our program.”

The plan succeeded with incredible speed.

Yes, the underground dealers and merchants were hungry for new contraband goods. Could Diego assure them a steady supply of electronic crystals and maquinas? Arrangements had to be made first of all with the interspace commercial fleets. When were the new paraquedoses to begin?

One-by-one, the pescodores of the village were approached by Machado. Most agreed, only a few rejected the proposition. But enough were recruited to get the project in motion. Gil accompanied the crew of his friend’s barco on the first retrieval under the new contractual arrangement. Two other fishing boats went along along with it, for three parachute loads were going to be dropped from near space that morning.

When the contraband electronic equipment was aboard, Diego turned to the man who had conceived of this solution. “You have outsmarted Almeido! The entire village will soon be engaged in our technological smuggling. There will be no one left to pick up that gangster’s toxicos.”

Gil smiled with joy. “It is a first step against narcotics and those who enrich themselves from the addictions of others.”

The barco returned to Sagres, where a final confrontation awaited it.

Two armed policials in white uniforms arrested Machado and Bahia. They were marched directly to the delegacia de policia, no one daring to interfere.

Diaz sat behind an iron desk, a strange fire in his coppery eyes. He spoke to the guards. “Take the pescador and lock him up in a cell.”

As Diego was taken away, the chefe rose and stepped forward, standing directly before the outsider who had upset the way things were done within his jurisdiction.

“Mr. Almeido thinks that you are the source of all his trouble,” began Diaz.

“What trouble do you refer to? I have done nothing wrong or illegal since arriving here. No one can blame me if the villagers are finding new employment of their time and energies.”

Diaz extended his arm, taking hold of the other’s left hand.

“I may have to execute you, depending on whether you cooperate with us. That’s what he told me this morning.”

“You must be his obedient slave, then,” curtly sneered the biologist.

“You and I will go and see him in my automoval immediately,” said the chefe.

Soon the two of them were climbing the steep morro in the black police vehicle. Word of their departure from the delegacia policia quickly spread throughout Sagres.

Juan Almeido sat in an easy chair on the terrace overlooking the nearly vertical rochedo. He said nothing as the two visitors approached, his purplish eyes fixed on the young face of Gil Bahia. The latter halted a meter from the magnata, Diaz a little behind him.

“You have ruined my business in this region by your interference,” he barked with anger. “I do not take very kindly to such troublemaking.”

The bioloista looked back at him without the slightest shadow of fear.

“Your dirty trade will n longer destroy people’s lives as before,” he boldly challenged the criminal boss. “I merely showed the Pescadores how to free themselves from the yoke of toxico smuggling.”

Almeido’s massive head seemed to tremble with rage.

“I shall make you an example, an object lesson.” He spoke pas Gil, to the police chief. “Alfonso, over the rochedo with this patife!”

It was best not to wait for what had been ordered, decided the prisoner.

A sudden run and broad leap hurled Gil over the low wall of the terrace, into the stony face of the colina, where Gil succeeded in catching a footing that halted his fall. A bullet raced past his had a he ducked into a thick bush.

By now, the escapee was perspiring and breathing heavily. Yet he continued moving downward, dashing from tree to tree. No more shells were audible, but Gil heard the noise of Almeido’s personal guards tramping about on his tail. What would happen if they caught him? He shivered at the thought.

Several times the runner nearly lost his balance in descending the forested morro. They wanted to capture him before he reached Sagres. What fate awaited him in the hands of Juan Almeido and Alfonso Diaz?

Making for a large, leafy salgueiro, Gil saw a figure with white hair suddenly appear from behind it. He stopped abruptly, gaping with open mouth.
There was no mistaking who it was rushing toward him.

What was Diego doing here on the morro? wondered the biologist.

It took only a moment for the pescador to relate the story of his rescue by a crowd of fellow fishermen. And now, the villagers were on the attack.

“We learned that Diaz had taken you up to he residencia. Our plan was to capture the casa and liberate you.” Machado took a deep breath. “Now, I believe it is necessary to defeat our enemy once and for all.”

“But what if Almeido escapes?” asked Gil.

“We have the morro ringed about,” answered Diego. “No one can slip out.”

“Are the pescadores armed, though?” asked Bahia with trepidation.

“Mostly with hunting carbinas, but they will do. You can accompany us as advisor and negotiator, should it come to that point.”

“What is the plan in mind?” asked Gil.

“A siege,” replied Machado. “We will hold our enemies on the morro.”

“The road to the residencia will have to be closed off.”

The old fisherman grinned. “We have already seen to that,” he announced.

Hour followed hour with Juan Almeido growing increasingly impatient. He sat in his study with Chefe Diaz, waiting to be rescued from the sky.

“It is our bad fortune that my helicoptero is on the ground in Bilbao, being repaired at the port garage. But I succeeded in calling my pilota by telephone and ordering him back here. He can land the craft on the terrace and take us from there.”

The policial gave him a piercing look. “You think that will work? Where do you intend to fly, may I ask?”

Almeido gave a start of surprise. “Have no doubt that I will get my revenge on these vermin, Alfonso. My position will be restored, along with yours.”

Diaz nodded, saying no more.

The helioptero, its blades motionless, stayed at rest on the terrace for only a minute, long enough for two figures to climb aboard. Then, the pilot started the rotation once more.

Slowly climbing, the air vehicle headed away from the morro, toward the sea. Down below, Gil and Diego watched the escape of their foes, helpless to affect the event.

“Everything is over,” muttered the fisherman. “Those two will return with greater forces and restore their positions of power.”

The hlicoptero grew smaller and smaller as it soared outward. Silence fell over the morro as the aircraft vanished in the distance.

All at once, a burst of fire flared where the escapees had last been seen. Eyes focused on the strange, soundless disaster occurring so far away.

The flaming helicoptero fell rapidly downward, straight into the acquamarine waters of the sea below. There was no noise as it splashed beneath the waves.

Gil turned to Machado, his face a mask of stunned astonishment.

“This never happened before.” said the old pescador. “A collision in mid-air.”

“Collision?” said the other in confusion.

“With a falling paraquedas,” answered Diego. “The helicoptero was flying into an area where toxicos have been dropped for many years. I believe that Almeido’s are still trying to send drogas to him.”

“What irony!” gasped Gil. “His own contrabanda brought him to his doom. And he took Diaz with him, too.”

“There will be no escape for them from the Ceu Sea,” sighed the old man.

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