Perilous Adventures
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by G Fitzgerald


Francisco presented her with a posy of basil. Not to cook with, as her Australian mind surmised. He told her that a Spaniard gives a woman a handful of basil to place between her breasts at night. It guards against mosquitoes while she dreams of the giver.

‘And did you put it there?’ her friend Dianne asked.

‘I’m not telling.’


She had met Francisco Amador, the local veterinarian, because of the stray dogs: Uno, Dos, Tres – named in order of their arrival at her finca. She had fed the first, bedraggled and skeletal, who was followed by a second, then a third, all unkempt and starving. She saw other lost dogs wandering beside the roads. The locals enlightened her: city-dwellers bought puppies cheaply from the Gypsies for birthdays and for Christmas. When the dogs grew too large for small city apartments, they were taken to the country and left to fend for themselves.

Uno was a half-breed Cocker; the other two were mongrels - Dos with his joyous tail, Tres with his sturdy character - all three starved for affection. She soon realised they were infested with ticks. Uno was half dead. Francisco expertly removed the ticks. His voice was soothing. You can tell what a man is like by how he treats a dog.

Word got around among the other dogs, and three more set up camp in the back garden, were taken to Francisco, de-ticked, and soon put on weight.

The villagers laughed at her. ‘Just call the services. They collect abandoned dogs. Won’t cost you a cent.’

‘What happens to them?’

Shrugs in the Spanish manner. Fingers drawn from ear to ear.

‘Killed for dogfood,’ they explained.


Francisco treated all the dogs, but when the seventh appeared on her doorstep she asked him: ‘What should I do? This place is becoming Villa Dog.’

‘Do you think you could part with them?’

‘To the council services? Never.’

‘I’ve thought about it,’ he said. ‘We could give them to some of my uncle’s friends. The dogs are healthy, and still young. They would make good guard dogs and have good homes.’


‘Near Valencia, about 150 kilometres from here.’

‘I’ll keep Uno,’ she said. ‘And Dos. And Tres.’

He laughed. ‘I wouldn’t do that.’

‘Why not? I’ve grown attached to them.’

‘They’re just dogs.’

‘You’re a veterinarian. Don’t you love animals?’

‘I don’t love them. Or hate them. The dogs take your attention. I suggest you concentrate on me. May I take you to lunch?’

A few days later, Francisco took Cuatro, Cinco, and Seis to Valencia. They didn’t go quietly but they did go. Adios, amigos.


The second time Linda and Francisco dined together, she said, ‘I’m almost ten years older than you.’

‘Makes no difference to me.’

On their third outing, he took her somewhere she could not have discovered alone - a tiny restaurant built into the cliffs. The Balearean sea lapped their feet. The owner served them a fire-blackened saucepan of llandeto - fish with laurel - grilled to perfection, and a white La Mancha wine. Francisco took her hand in the dark grotto, while the bright Iberian sunshine sparkled outside. He asked her to call him Paco, the familiar form of his first name, which publicly announced his status as her lover.

‘Other men will not try to court you then.’

She preferred to call him Francisco. ‘Saint of the animals,’ she said.

The animals certainly needed an advocate. When Francisco and she were lunching at a restaurant in the country, a hunter swaggered in with two dozen tiny feathered corpses swinging in knots around his paunch.

‘Ortolans,’ said Francisco, ‘a regional delicacy.’

The hunter was a man full of his own machista. How could anyone be so proud of just being a man?

Francisco told her the ortolans were too small to be shot, so nets were thrown over the groundbushes and hunters strangled each bird individually.

‘Don’t let it upset our lunch,’ said Francisco, and put his hand on his heart, then kissed her cheek. He too was proud of being a man. She saw that in his look.

‘Life is to live, Querida!’

And live it they did.

‘A Spanish saying, Linda: ‘no one can take away what I’ve danced,’’ said Francisco, and danced her into the night.


When her friend Dianne came to visit, Linda took her to the grotto restaurant.

‘I wonder how he and I look together?’

‘Who cares? Just enjoy it, Linda.’

‘He’s ten years younger.’

‘He looks older. Perhaps because he’s sombre.’

‘He’s not sombre. He’s romantic.’

‘So was Paul.’

‘Paul? Being charming and irresponsible do not make ‘romantic’, Dianne. You can’t compare Francisco with that bastard.’

‘They’re both men,’ said Dianne.

‘Francisco is kind. He’s finding homes for all the strays.’

More arrived on her doorstep. They would cringe into the garden, attracted by Uno cavorting under the trees. Six months after Christmas was the worst time, when bands of dejected dogs wandered the road to Alicante, unable to find their way home. Many were run over; most slowly starved.

Villa Dog had nursed dozens of abandoned strays back to health. He found, and continued to find, homes for them. Francisco and Linda were a team now. She relearned trust by trusting him.

The local butcher supplied her with bones and fresh meat. She would not buy industrial dogfood.
‘It’s much cheaper,’ he said. ‘And I bet the butcher overcharges you.’

After Paul, it was refreshing to have someone who took money seriously. And took her seriously. Their love affair was refreshing. It was also a sweet, private revenge on Paul.

Francisco teased her about the strays but not once did he infer that she should stop looking after them. He rendered her scrupulous accounts of his professional visits to the starvelings, including his travel time. He had never offered to treat one of her dogs free of charge. Business and pleasure do not mix.

The vet had no affection for Uno, Dos, or Tres. If Dos put his paw on Francisco’s knee, he brushed it off ─ and brushed off his trousers. If Tres jumped up in welcome, Francisco rebuffed him abruptly. Uno occasionally snarled at him and Francisco snarled back.

‘He’s jealous of me,’ he said.

‘You tell me not to anthropomorphise the dogs.’

‘Maybe I’m jealous of him.’

‘Of my dog?’

‘It’s the way you speak to him. You never speak to me like that.’

Unconditional love, she wanted to tell him. She did not know how to say it in Spanish and he did not know its meaning in English.


Linda had turned a blind eye to Paul’s love affairs. They never lasted long because he had no intention of leaving her. When she discovered he was also dipping into their bank accounts without her knowledge, she felt like an old shoe trailing years of confetti. She had divorced quickly, thanks to her father’s lawyer. Now Paul was the past. And the present …

The present was glorious.

She listened to the gardener harvesting almonds with a hickory rake, the vareo: the sound of Spain in late summer. The house had a view of Alicante; she was surrounded by citrus groves, carob trees and Miro-coloured flowers in her garden.

She had lived in La Jara almost a year. Members of the English-speaking community often invited her for drinks. She made friends with Amelia Ferrer and Carlos Soler, the owners of two neighbouring properties. They taught her long Spanish lunches, siestas, late dining. Amelia told her to say she was widowed, not divorced. Linda would lower her eyes as she told this lie, and people questioned her no further. Except Francisco.

Shortly after her divorce, one rain-gray Monday, she had seen an advertisement and booked a flight. She had always been the ant and Paul the carefree grasshopper. She had decided it was time for her to chirp. Somewhere far away.

‘Why Alicante?’ Dianne had asked.

‘I like the name.’

Momentum had brought her there. Linda soon found a seventeenth-century finca for sale on the outskirts of La Jara, overlooking the sierra on one side, the sea on the other. She bought it, imbibing the Iberian character of the house, its huge fireplace, big enough to stand in, and the Don Quixote lustre of its ancient floor tiles. The windows had hand-wrought iron reja, part of the old courting practices in Spain. The daughter of the house was serenaded by her lover outside her window. She could see him, hear him, exchange lovelorn glances, but the closely worked bars protected her from his touch. Built to withstand, the reja now secured Linda from breaking and entry of another kind. Her musing was interrupted by Uno, Dos and Tres, heralding Francisco’s arrival.

‘To my new life,’ she said, toasting it, the dogs, Francisco and the resplendent pink sunset.

Translucent geckos basked on the roof terrace. He told her they were an omen of good fortune, because they only chose to inhabit some, not all, houses. Chance, thought Linda, mere chance. Like love, it can happen or not. She enjoyed hearing Francisco recount the lore (often Gypsy-based) of blessings and curses.

‘What do those crossed brooms above the entrance mean?’ she asked.

‘They’re said to keep the duende away. A spirit, a house ghost that may be good or evil.’

‘I certainly feel protected here. And happy.’

‘Te amo,’ he said.

She smiled, but said nothing.


‘Has he mentioned marriage yet?’ Dianne asked when she phoned.

No. But he took her to meet his mother, for merienda, the traditional afternoon tea. Doña Maria-Luisa Amador wore black, although her husband had been dead for years.

‘Another tradition,’ Amelia informed her, and also told Linda what Doña Maria-Luisa had reported to friends. ‘The Inglesa has dogs, with leashes! She is crazy about them; talks to them. She must be rich. And skin so white. A blonde. She’s almost as tall as my son. She wears a big white hat. Says the sun is too strong. Very foreign, muy extraña.’

A week later, on her way to market, Linda saw Francisco outside the circus in Javea, the nearest town. ‘I thought you were in Valencia today.’

‘Forgot to tell you.’

‘Extracting a thorn from the lion’s paw?’ Her witticism fell flat. Francisco was ill at ease.

She was slightly perturbed. Why had he lied to her? That evening, she phoned Dianne.

‘Maybe he’s married. I’ve never been to his place; he always comes to mine, or we go out.’

‘Oh, come on! What about him taking you to see his mother? And your neighbour Amelia would have told you.’
‘But still, he might be seeing someone else.’

‘Someone at the Javea circus?’

Linda stiffened. The trapeze artiste. A Ukrainian beauty. Not more than 20. Blonde, pale skin. His type; and young.
‘How do you say ‘detective’ in Spanish?’

‘Linda, don’t start bleeding till you’re shot. Every man isn’t another Paul.’


The next time he told her he was going to Valencia, she drove to the circus. She did not see his car in the front lot, but intuition made her drive around the back. It was there. This time she made sure he did not see her. He had lied again.
‘Linda, he may not be seeing this circus girl. You can’t be sure.’

‘I’ve hired someone.’

The private detective found no evidence of Francisco with the trapeze artist or any other woman, young or old. The detective knew his job and proved it by showing her photos of herself and Francisco together.

‘I never noticed you around.’

‘Discretion is my work.’ The detective displayed several other photographs and videos of Francisco, alone, on his rounds, with men, but not with women.

‘There you are,’ said Dianne. ‘Worried for nothing.’


The fastest way to learn the dimensions of your own character is to live in a foreign country.

There can be deceptions for which you are unprepared. Truths that are hard to fit into your own realities. Take the first time she saw a rainbow flock of turquoise, yellow, emerald green birds ─ jewels against the sun.

‘Parrots,’ she cried. ‘How beautiful they are!’

‘They’re pigeons,’ Francisco said. She wished he had not told her. In Alicante, pigeon racers identify their birds by spraying their pinions in bright colours. They use household neon spraypaint.

‘Try to be impartial,’ Dianne said. ‘Laugh it off.’

Easier said than done; no matter how many fine bubbles of excellent cava she savoured with Francisco.


When Paul began ‘borrowing’ her funds, a sixth sense had warned her. She had not heeded her intuition at first, although she should have. The third time she saw Francisco’s car parked outside the circus, she called the detective again.

‘Station yourself there. I want a full report.’

‘There is no woman.’

‘There is someone. I feel it in my bones.’

The detective was efficient. ‘Francisco Amador regularly sees the circus owner. He brings him dogs.’


The detective opened his mouth wide, took a big imaginary chomp and rubbed his paunch. ‘For the lions. It keeps the kings of the jungle healthy, to run for their food.’

‘Live bait? My dogs are live bait?’

The detective shrugged. He handed her his camera. The screen showed Francisco, the circus owner, and the little band of plump, glossy mongrels he had recently taken ‘to Valencia’. The detective put his hand on her shoulder in the Spanish simpático gesture.

‘The man you asked me to watch is a veterinarian. He makes a good living. I asked myself why he’d want to sell dogs: not much of a sideline for someone like him. It’s what Gypsies do, sell their old dogs. I discovered that the circus owner is his uncle, who’s not doing so well. It’s hard to compete now that Disney’s arrived in Barcelona.’


She lay alone in her bed. The peaceful slither of the geckos on the walls had become sinister. The crossed brooms above her doorway had not protected her.

‘I think he genuinely loves you,’ Dianne said. ‘He’s just not a dog fancier.’

‘Could you sleep with someone who fed your dogs to lions?’

‘I don’t have a dog.’

‘He lied to me, Dianne. And he took my money to treat the strays and then gave them to his uncle. I’d like to lock him in that lion cage.’


Linda refused to see Francisco. The ache in her soul was worse than it had been with Paul. Her Latin lover was tenacious. He insisted on coming to see her. He stood outside the reja, his hands gripping the iron bars. She would not let him in.
‘But I love you. Forget the worthless dogs.’

‘You see those dogs as nothing.’

‘They’re animals. I’m a human being.’

‘I have my doubts about that.’

‘Cara, our happiness lies in the future, not in the past.’

‘You lied.’

‘Everyone has to lie in a relationship. How do you think relationships last? Can’t you understand?’


‘You look after money so that it grows, right?’

‘Yes,’ Francisco agreed.

‘Love, too,’ she said and closed the window.

He erupted in a Latino flow of hot words. She kept her rage inside.

On her last night, she sipped a farewell Jerez on the roof terrace in the unforgettable sunset, two bravura hours of pink and gold and red.

Her lawyer arranged for the sale of the finca to a retired English couple, who were enamoured of the house, the view, and the dogs.


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