Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©2000 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
Miguel Silva darted through the crowd at the outdoor flea market, making
the usual rounds to beg for his breakfastor steal it, if necessary.
The gypsies and other Portuguese vendors watched him with well-placed mistrust
and kept a close eye on their wares. This would be a morning of brisk business
and barter, and in the afternoon the makeshift marketplace would be gone
without a trace, except for the garbage left behind.
Slipping around a stall packed with handwoven sweaters, Miguel crouched
into his chosen position opposite a large fruit stand. Small for his nine
years, he made himself even smaller against the colorful orange tarp that
formed the side of the music booth. The latest American music CD blared into
the crisp November air from two small speakers attached to the roof of the
Wait, he told himself.
The olive-skinned fruit man turned his head to help a black-clad lady
adorned with several layers of gold jewelry, and in that instant Miguel crept
close and grabbed at the tin box holding the morning's proceeds. He had
But no! A strong, hairy fist closed around his wrist. "Gotcha!"
Miguel jerked his hand away. The fruit man made a shooing motion toward
him, glaring at him with dark eyes, but Miguel snatched two green apples
from one of the handwoven baskets before plunging into the crowd. "Thief!
Thief!" the man yelled.
Miguel shot a glance behind him as the cries faded. He laughed. Stealing
the apples was almost easy. Too bad he didn't get the moneythat would
have been better. For once Octávia would have been pleased, and that
night they would have eaten a dinner fit for kings.
His attention on this fantasy, he barreled into the stocky figure of
the uniformed policeman who patrolled the flea market. A black baton swung
gently from a hook at his waist as his sharp eyes searched for potential
troublemakerslike Miguel. "Get a move on, boy," he said, not
"I ain't done nothin'," Miguel said, hitching up his oversized pants.
Once they had been blue, but were now a dirty brown. He shivered and pulled
his sweater down to cover the bread roll he had stolen earlier and tucked
into the top of his pants near the broken snap in front.
"Oh, yeah? Then what's that you're hiding?" the policeman said, eyes
narrowing. "And what's bulging in your pockets?" He pointed to where Miguel
had stashed the apples.
Miguel bolted, fear making his feet fly as he dodged through the sea
of somberly dressed people. Occasionally, he looked back to see if the policeman
was following him.
I'd like to see him catch me now, he thought.
Even though it wasn't likely, that frightening idea made his stomach
ache. Only once had he been careless enough to be caught. The police had
taken him to a dingy orphanage whose matrons hadn't approved of his attitude,
and he had spent most of his time there in trouble. Nothing he had known
previously had been worse than those two long weeks before his Aunt Octávia
had finally been found.
"I thought you'd run off," was all she said. But that night she had
surprised him with candy and extra bread. Sara, his little sister, had hugged
him hard and cried.
Now Miguel neared the edge of the flea market where Octávia
awaited him, dressed in her usual black skirt and sweater. She watched with
her tiny jet eyes, skinny arms folded over her drooping bosom, as little
Sara asked people for money. Sara spotted him and smiled, and Miguel grinned
back. When his sister smiled it was as if a light went on inside her, making
him feel warm all over. Her eyes were another wondera deep brown, with
tiny flecks of light gold dotting the dark pools, so large in her small
"Come, Miguel." Octávia's thin lips also twisted into a smile,
revealing black spots on her yellow teeth. She held out her hand, beckoning.
Reluctantly, Miguel approached, lowering his head and hunching slightly.
He put the roll and one of the apples into her outstretched hand.
"What's this?" she screeched, tugging on her large beak of a nose.
The familiar gesture caused Miguel's shoulders to shrink further and Sara's
smile to vanish. Both waited in frozen terror. Talon-like fingers dug into
Miguel's upper arm as Octávia's voice lowered threateningly. "I told
ya I wanted money! Or something of value." Her voice sounded slurred from
the alcohol she had already consumed that morning, but her meaning was clear.
She drew back a thick-veined hand and slapped him hard across the cheek.
Miguel's eyes filled with tears at the stinging pain, but he blinked, unwilling
to let them fall.
"I need more from ya. More! If ya can't beg for it, steal it, but get
it!" She brought her face close to his, and Miguel could see how the skin
sagged into deep wrinkles. "Or maybe next time you get picked up by the
orphanage, I'll let you stay there."
Sweat broke out all over Miguel's body, despite the crisp winter air.
Octávia's threats were worse than her wicked outbursts of temper.
If he stayed in an orphanage, he would never see Sara again. And he couldn't
imagine not being with Sara.
"I'll get ya more," he promised, his voice croaking like the frog he
had found last year in the woods near their shack. "I always do, don't I?"
He straightened, trying to fake a confidence he didn't feel.
Octávia's sharp face transformed, becoming almost friendly.
"Yeah, you do at that, Miguel. You was always one to get us what we need.
I taught ya right. Well, I'll be expectin' a load tonight."
Sara's smile returned at the sudden shift in their aunt's demeanor.
Miguel felt a wave of relief. "You'll get it, so lay off." He dug into his
pocket and held out the remaining apple to his sister, shooting a furtive
glance in search of the policeman.
"Hurry along," Octávia said gruffly to Sara. "We got to get
to the metro before the morning crowd is gone." As the old lady turned away,
she took a quick bite of the roll Miguel had given her. His stomach growled
at the sight, but he would find more to eat later.
Sara pushed her apple at him. "You keep it. I always get somethin'
to eat in the train station. Don't worry 'bout me. Besides, I ate the last
of the bread this mornin'." She paused, wringing her thin hands as she always
did when she was thinking. "Miguel . . . you knowdon't ya?that
Octávia don't mean it. About the orphanage. She just talks like that
when she drinks."
"I know," he said diffidently. He did know. Sometimes Octávia
was the nicest person he knewuntil she drank, which was getting to
be all the time now. When drunk, her quick anger came to the surface all
too easily. Each time she would tug at her nose and then explode. Resentment
simmered in Miguel's heart, but he wasn't mad at Octávia exactly;
he just hated the heavy knot of fear in his stomach. He forced the fruit
back into Sara's hand. "It won't always be like this. One day soon, we'll
leave Portugal, maybe go to Switzerland and find a good job. People does
it all the time."
Sara's lips curved upward in her angelic smile. "And then Octávia
won't have to worry about buying us stuff, 'cause we'll have so much. She'll
be happy always. And we'll go to church every Sunday, and sometimes ride
in a big boat."
Her words pushed Miguel's fear into a tiny corner, almost out of his
reach. It was nice to know Sara shared his dreams. One day they would be
happy and free! She pressed his hand and flitted away, running to keep up
with Octávia's retreating figure.
"I'll bring ya somethin' back tonight, too," he called after her. Ever
since he could remember, he had kept a bit of the money he earned to buy
something for Sara, risking Octávia's anger when there wasn't enough
to pay for the liquor she craved.
When Sara reached the street corner, she turned and threw something
at his feet before disappearing: the apple. Miguel scooped the bruised fruit
from the pavement. The white flesh tasted sweet, but did little to sate the
ache of hunger in his gut.
Nearby, he spotted a lady with two huge plastic grocery sacks filled
to the brim with her day's purchases. A good place to start. Then he noticed
the policeman watching him openly, and decided to move on; there would be
no more success here today.
He left the noisy marketplace and traced his way along the cobblestone
sidewalks, heading for the ferry that would take him across the River Tejo
to Cacilhas. Once he finally boarded the ferry, it would take a good ten
minutes to cross the river, and that meant hundreds of people sitting and
waiting for him to ask them for money.
In the busy streets of Lisbon, shoppers and business people alike traversed
the cobblestone sidewalks, some briskly, others lazily strolling. There were
cars too, racing wildly about in the narrow cobbled streets in an ordered
confusion that Miguel well understood. He had studied it as he did everything
Someday soon he would have a car, the long sleek kind with a top that
rolled back in the summer, and it would be bright red, Sara's favorite color.
He smiled at the thought, and even his stomach seemed less empty.
Tall cement apartment buildings flanked both sides of the narrow road,
so high that he could only glimpse a slice of the clear blue sky above. Small
businesses opened out on most of the ground floorsclothing stores,
bread shops, shoe outlets, jewelry stores, and the cafés that sold
those tantalizing pastries. He stopped for a moment, peering into the window
of a pastry shop. Inside, the counter was lined with people, eating breakfast
pastries with obvious relish.
"Want to buy a flower?" A woman with silvery-grey hair stood near the
entrance to the pastry shop. She had a basket of fresh flowers and offered
one to each passerby.
Miguel glanced one last time at the happy people inside the café,
then turned away. "Hi, Senhora Ferreira," he called to the flower lady.
"Hi, Miguel. How are you today?"
He lifted his chin, stifling the deep cough that rose in his throat.
"Okay. Need a hand with your flowers?" Sometimes she would pay him almost
as much as he could earn begging on the ferryespecially now that he
was getting older. People didn't give to him as readily as they did to
The woman shook her head ruefully. "Sorry. Not many buying today. Maybe
in a month or so, closer to Christmas."
Miguel had expected as much. While winter was always his most hated
of seasons, early November was particularly bad; he suffered from the cold
nearly as much as he did in December, but the Christmas generosity hadn't
yet hit the populace like it did near Christmas. In December people remembered
the poor; in November they forgot.
He waved farewell and continued his trek. The towering stone arch of
Rua Augusta signaled his approach to the wharf. In summer, the wide walkway
before the arch would be brimming with people in yellow-roofed booths selling
odd trinkets, pictures, or chalk drawings. Artists covered the cobblestones
with bright paintings to display their talents and passersby gave them money.
Once, Miguel had bought a small gold-painted metal ship under full sail.
It measured as long as his middle finger and was so shiny and beautiful,
he had been unable to resist spending the precious escudos it cost to own
such a prize.
He touched his shirt pocket under the sweater, comforted to feel the
bulge. Yes, it was still there with his only other treasureone far
more valuable to him.
The arch of Rua Augusta led into the spacious commerce square near
the wharf. At the
entrance to the square, a man with a vendor cart nodded
hello and tossed him a rolled newspaper cup full of roasted chestnuts.
"Thanks a lot, Senhor Alferes!"
"Come back later on your way home. I'll give you some for little
"I will." Miguel saluted the old seaman awkwardly before continuing
past the metal trolley cars, standing out in bright orange-yellow contrast
to the black-and-white design of the cobblestones. He broke open the shells
and began to eat the hot chestnuts quickly. They warmed him, and he almost
didn't mind the cold breeze coming through the stretched parts of his dingy
He whistled as he passed the center of the open square, where a majestic
metal statue of King Dom José on horseback rose high above the passersby
on a massive stone pedestal. Beyond lay the wharf. Near the ferry station,
a dark-haired, heavyset lady sold hot Belgian waffles. The smell wafted on
the light breeze, calling to him. He tried not to look her way.
Getting aboard the ferry wasn't difficult as Miguel was practiced at
finding someone to buy him the necessary ticket. Searching the row of faces
waiting at the ticket stand, he targeted a young woman with soft features.
Underneath her long gray winter coat, he glimpsed a brown wool skirt and
He sidled up to her. "Please, Senhora, do ya got some spare change?
I need to get across the river." He tried to look hopeful and
She shook her dark head once and stared away from him, distaste written
on her pretty face. Miguel waited a little longer; sometimes conscience attacks
occurred after the initial refusal. The cold breeze whipping into the open
end of the station brought the woman's shoulder-length hair forward into
her face. She pushed it back impatiently and waved him on.
Miguel shrugged and walked away. It wasn't the first time he had erred
in choosing a mark, and it wouldn't be the last. This time he targeted an
older woman, very stout and dressed in mourning black. Strands of white softened
the stark raven hair, pulled firmly into a tight bun. Some of these women
dressed in black could be hard, but this one's eyes seemed to rest on him
"Can ya spare a ticket?" he asked in his most polite voice. "I lost
mine, and I got to get home. Please?" The lie slipped off his tongue as easily
as if he were telling the truth, but the cough and the shiver were real.
She studied him. He hoped his face was dirty enough to work the miracle.
In the summer, after playing in the pond at Entre Campos, Miguel would have
to rub a little dirt on his face before he went begging. He didn't understand
exactly what magic qualities the dirt held, but it always helped, especially
with older ladies.
The amount of dirt must have been just right. "Yes, child," she said.
"Let's go. I'll buy you a ticket."
He ducked his head. "Obrigado, Senhora." Thank you. But the fact that
she would buy him a ticket instead of giving him the money to buy one himself
didn't escape him. But since what he really needed at this point was a ticket,
her prudence didn't bother him.
The ferry arrived, a happy three-level orange boat, decorated with
large white-painted wooden rings along the side that resembled life preservers.
Farther below, where the ferry hit the dock, huge black tires hung against
its sides to soften the impact. A young man on the dock caught the thick
anchor rope and expertly flipped it around a metal block, securing the ship.
Miguel stared, fascinated as always by the worker's deftness and ease.
The boat disgorged its occupants in a brief, frenzied wave. The passengers
were an odd assortment of white, brown, and black, dressed in everything
from elegant business apparel to plain, homey dresses. Many of the women
carried large woven shopping baskets or plastic sacks. A few had toddlers
tied to their backs and balanced heavy baskets on their heads, reminiscent
of days gone by. Miguel toyed with the idea of trying to steal a wallet,
but the kind lady's eyes were on him. Maybe later.
On board, he allowed himself to be gradually separated from the lady.
There was a rumbling sound of feet on the painted metal deck as people scrambled
for seats. Miguel stood awhile at the edge of the boat, letting the gentle
rocking sway through him. Without understanding why, he adored the
A fleeting memory came. Of his mother. A soft voice, the gentle caress,
so much love. Miguel felt happy and sad and empty all at once. Oh,
Again he fingered his toy boat through his sweater. There was something
about sailing, about being free from the hard confines of land, that always
brought the memories. If he had a real boat, he could sail away, perhaps
to America where everyone was rich.
The wind's icy fingers were stronger here, and he reluctantly forced
himself away from the edge. Most of the passengers had headed for the hold
or the main floor, protected from the cold breeze by metal walls and glass
windows. Only the hardy made for the open half of the top floor.
When the men who sailed the ferry were nowhere in sight, Miguel plunged
into the hold and started to work the crowd. He said nothing, simply stood
in front of the seated people until they noticed him, his thin hand held
out in a silent plea. Most people averted their eyes and pretended not to
see, but several gave him small coins, and to them he nodded his thanks.
The many ladies who had pulled out their knitting seemed particularly loath
to stop to find him a coin.
After completing his rounds on the main deck, he made his way up the
stairs to the open part of the ferry. Two women sat near the edge, talking
and gazing out over the water, their faces red with cold. One had long blonde
hair, white skin, and blue eyes; the other was dark-skinned and dark-haired,
with brown eyes as dark as the chestnuts Senhor Alferes had given him. Both
strangers were young and pretty. They reminded him of milk and chocolate,
each as appealing as they were different. He walked up to the women and,
holding out a cupped hand, stared soulfully into their faces.
"Oh," the blonde woman said, startled. Her warm blue eyes showed pity
and confusion. The unusual yellow color of her hair was rare in Portugal,
and Miguel stifled an urge to touch the locks. Her hair looked so clean and his hand was so dirty.
Glancing at the Bibles each held in their lap, he almost couldn't conceal
a grin. The young women were church workers or nuns of some sort, though
they were dressed in regular skirts and blouses. These types always made
good targets. Last year one from France, a Sister Perrault, had taught a
group of children living in the shacks, among them Miguel and Sara. There
were others who had come and gone since then, but Sister Perrault remained
his favorite. Not only had she taught him about Jesus, but about what kind
of foods he and Sara should eat to stay healthy. Often, she had slipped him
money. Octávia had let him listen to her when he told her about that.
"Do you have any change?" the dark woman asked her friend.
"No, nothing," the blonde said, in slightly accented Portuguese.
Miguel heard the sincerity in their words and started to lower his
hand, not hiding his disappointment. There were two flaws he had found with
most religious people like theseeither they didn't have any money to
spare, or they would try to convert him to Jesus. Sometimes he went along
with it, especially at Christmas time, just to eat a good meal. But it never
lasted. They always wanted him to go to church or school, which interfered
with Octávia's need for him to earn money.
"Oh, wait!" The blonde woman's eyes lit up, and Miguel watched warily
as she plunged her hand into the large leather handbag leaning against her
leg. She pulled out a tube-like package of cookies wrapped in plastic.
He took them carefully, almost afraid they weren't meant for him. Then
he stepped back out of her reach, in case she changed her mind. Ducking his
head to them, he uttered a sincere thank you, not bothering to hide his
excitement. His stomach, only partially satiated by the chestnuts,rowled.
The ladies smiled as he left. Miguel forgot them as he rounded the
corner near the stairs. He sank to the floor, ripping the package open greedily.
Never did he refuse or throw away food except for the rare occasions when
he was given more than he could hoard, but cookies were a special treat.
There were ten all together, as round as his palm and thick and sugary. He
shoved one into his mouth, chewing and swallowing quickly. Then he forced
himself to eat more slowly, savoring the taste. After he had eaten four of
the ten cookies, he refolded the cellophane around the remaining six and
stored them carefully in the sleeve of his sweater to share later with Sara.
Already his stomach felt more comfortable.
After working the ferry for another three runs, he found an isolated
spot in the commerce square on the stairs under the huge statue of the horse
and its kingly rider where he could count his money. Nine hundred and twenty
escudos in all, plus ten thousand from a wallet he had managed to steal from
a well-dressed man who had ignored him completely. Nearly eleven contos!
Octávia would be pleased.
Miguel fingered the rich black leather of the wallet. When he had caught
a glimpse of the man's sorrowful black eyes, like deep pits, he had surprised
himself by feeling a little remorseful about stealing the wallet, but quickly
buried the qualms. The man would never miss the money, but to Miguel it was
"That's the child!" A woman's shout burst through his reverie.
He looked up and saw a woman tugging on the arm of a policeman. Her
finger pointed directly at Miguel.
"He was begging on the ferry. You have to do
something about it." She licked her tongue. "Such a disgrace."
The policeman approached, but Miguel jumped to his feet and tossed
a mocking grin at the pair before disappearing into the crowd. The streets
were his element; no one could catch him now.
"I'll have to get another identity card," Daniel Andrade said to his
wife. "There was a boy begging on the ferry this morning. He must have taken
"You could have lost it," Cristina said mildly. The breeze from the
water had died but her cheeks and nose were red from the cold. She retreated
from the edge of their small passenger boat and walked into the cabin, rubbing
her gloved hands together. Daniel finished tying down the sail and followed
her. Winter wasn't the best time for boating, but they had to come down to
the wharf at least once a month to make sure No Name was all right. Besides,
a brisk sail always raised his spirits. Cristina seemed to enjoy it too.
"Why must you always take their side?" Daniel picked up their conversation
with a snort. "I tell you, children like that are born to steal. They'll
do anything to take what we've earned by our hard work. It's in their genes."
In the rough cabin, the cold was less biting, and once they lit the old stove
it would grow almost warm.
"Maybe they're just hungry."
"Well, I won't dispute that. Their parents refuse to work and yet they
keep producing children who are nothing more than a burden to the
"It's good someone is having children," Cristina said, settling on
the sturdy wooden bench opposite the stove. She pulled her knees to her chest
and circled her arms around them. "Portugal's becoming an old country with
everyone having only one or two children." She paused before adding more
quietly, "Or none at all."
"And those children that are born have to go to other countries to
work," Daniel said angrily. "Where is the justice in that? And why? Because
we're so busy supporting the poor
children that there's no room for growth
for those who really deserve it."
"But people like us are different. We can take care of our children
and prepare them to be productive here. We have money for food and shelter,
college, music lessons, and anything else they may need. And didn't the Lord
wanted us to be fruitful and to multiply and replenish the earth?
If we had children"
"I see the pain in the world, Cristina, and I won't inflict
any of our children. Or them upon the world, if they go berserk and become
drug addicts or killers. No, the responsible thing to do is to not have
It was okay back in the old days, but not now."
Cristina flushed as she always did when she was even the tiniest bit
upset, and her lips
clamped together tightly as if she struggled to hold
"Take that poor child on the ferry, for instance," he said more gently.
kind of a world is this for him? Appalling is the word that comes to
my mind. A world where children have to beg for a living, instead of learning
and being cared for by responsible parents. I curse those thoughtless
people! I see the way these throw-away children live. Do you know how many
cases come to my desk each week? Where is God in their lives?"
Cristina still said nothing. Daniel was the top assistant to the president
of the city
of Cova da Piedade, and had more power than anyone in that community
except the president himself. By his command, businesses failed or succeeded,
were made or initiated. He had a promising political career, yet
he was the first to admit that his very prominence had added to his
life. He had seen the ugliness behind the scenes. Wars,
famines, abusethere was an unending surge of evil in the world. In
Portugal, flanked by richer
countries, the uneven scale particularly cried
out for justice.
"I hear you, Daniel," Cristina said finally. "Maybe you're right."
He recognized the
defeat in her voice and moved to sit on the bench beside
her. She let her feet drop to the deck and tilted her head onto his shoulder,
spilling gentle curls
over his chest. He pressed his cheek against her head,
enjoying the soft touch of the brown locks on his face.
"I love you," he said.
Her voice was teasing. "Well, you sure have a funny way
of showing ittaking a woman out sailing on a day like this!" She gave
an exaggerated shiver.
He grinned. "This is the best time. Why, Manuel and I used to say that
this was the only season to sail. An open sea with only us and the most hardy
Nostalgia fell over him like clear blue waves. Manuel had helped him
build No Name that last summer, on the days they had off from the
boat. During the long hours of work, Daniel would teach Manuel things he
had learned in college. Manuel had an agile mind and continually amazed
with how fast he could learn. Often on the calm nights on the fishing boat,
they would read old classics far into the night. Manuel no longer used the
uneducated Portuguese that most of the fishing hands spoke, but copied Daniel's
speech. Several times Daniel had suggested that his friend go to college
himself, but Manuel wouldn't hear of leaving the seaexcept to spend
time with his family. Life had been good in those days, full of laughter
discovery. But that was before Daniel had learned that the promises the
future held were mostly lies.
"You haven't talked about him for a long time,"
Cristina said. "When
we were first married, I loved to listen to your stories. Remember? We would
sleep out on the deck at night and you'd tell how together
you and Manuel
could catch more fish than any other mates on board your ship. I used to
wonder why you didn't go into the fishing industry. With your brains
Manuel's knowledge of the sea, I bet you could have made it a success."
"Politics is safer," he said. "If not cleaner. But those were good
"It's too bad he died. I'd like to hear his side of all the stories
you tell. Did you really invent a new kind of net?"
replied shortly. It always surprised him that the memory
brought back so much pain. "Just before Manuel was killed. Why he had to
die instead of that
ungrateful fool he saved from drowning, I'll never
Cristina put an arm around him. "I'm sorry."
He let out a long sigh. "So am I. But it's
in the past. It has nothing
to do with us now." He arose and strode to the entrance of the cabin, grabbing
the fishing pole from a hook by the door. "What do
you say we go catch some
She laughed. "I thought you'd never ask. But you go on. I'm going start
the stove so the coals are ready by the time we
catch one. I'm starved."
"You just want to stay out of the cold."
A grin lit her striking face. "Hey, it's your boat. You do the
Daniel dropped the pole and returned to his wife's side, taking her
into his arms. "The smartest thing I ever did was to marry you," he murmured
hair. "I'll do anything to make you happy."
"I wonder," she said. The words held a haunting melancholy that made
Daniel feel uneasy. He looked at her
closely but her smile was bright; when
he hugged her, she didn't pull away. Daniel gave her a quick kiss and put
the incident from his mind. Their lunch was
out there swimming somewhere
in that wide, icy expanse, and he was going to find it.
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