Dante Claiming His Secret Love-Child(7)

By: Sandra Marton

She hadn’t said a word.

The flush had left her cheeks. In fact, she’d gone white. Then she’d pushed back her chair and walked out of the restaurant, leaving the earrings, leaving him, just walked, head up, spine straight, never once looked back.

Dante tossed back the last of the beer, exchanged his jeans for shorts and went out for a run.

When he returned an hour later, he tumbled into bed and slept, dream free, until the wake-up call from the front desk awakened him the next morning.

Eduardo de Souza, the Viera attorney, sounded pleasant enough.

Dante explained he was the son of an old acquaintance of Juan Viera and asked if they could meet as soon as possible.

“Ah,” de Souza said, on a long sigh. “And your father knows what has happened?”

That Viera was dying? That the man’s son was about to inherit the Viera ranch?

“Yes,” Dante said, “he does. That’s why I’m here, senhor.” He paused, unsure of how the lawyer would react. “My father wishes to buy the place from him.”

Silence. Then de Souza, sounding puzzled, said, “From whom?”

“From Viera. From the estate. Look, senhor, if we could meet to discuss this…”

“Indeed. I can see we have much to discuss…but little time in which to do it. I am, in fact, on my way to the Viera fazenda right now. Can you meet me there?”

De Souza gave him directions, told him to watch for a turnoff about thirty miles from town.

“The sign is gone, I am afraid, but you will know you are in the right place because it will be the only turnoff for miles in any direction. Just drive through the gate. It is perhaps one mile from there to the house.”

Dante found the turnoff without any difficulty. The gate was open, the gravel road ahead pockmarked with holes. After about a mile, a house and half a dozen outbuildings came into view. A corral stood off to one side of the clearing.

Dante frowned. The buildings, including the house, gave off a general sense of neglect. The corral enclosed only weeds. There were some vehicles in the clearing: a few well-used pickups, cars with mud caked on their wheels, and an enormous SUV, all gleaming black paint and shiny chrome. Stupid to dislike a vehicle, Dante knew, but he disliked this thing on sight.

Slowly he stepped from his car. This was a successful ranch? Maybe he’d taken the wrong road…

“Senhor Orsini?”

A short, stout man was hurrying down the steps, patting his sweating face with a handkerchief.

“Senhor de Souza?” Dante extended his hand. “It’s good to meet you, sir.”

“I tried to delay things, senhor, but there was some impatience. You understand.”

Delay what? Dante started to ask, but the lawyer clutched his elbow and hurried him into the house. Men stood in little clusters, arms folded. One man, huge in girth and height, dressed like a movie villain in black and puffing on a cigar that filled the room with its stink, stood alone.

Dante pegged him instantly as the owner of the SUV. A wide staircase rose toward the second floor; in front of it stood a guy in a shiny suit, rattling away in indecipherable Brazilian Portuguese. Every now and then, one of the spectators grunted in response.

Dante frowned. “What’s going on here?”

“Why, the auction, of course,” de Souza whispered. “Of the ranch. By the bank.” An expressive shrug. “You know.”

No, Dante thought furiously, he did not know. His father had sent him into a situation without giving him any of the necessary facts. He grabbed the lawyer’s arm, dragged him into a corner.

“Juan Viera is selling the place?”

The little man’s eyebrows lifted. “Juan Viera is dead, senhor.”

Dead? Dante took a breath. “His son, then? Arturo is selling it?”

“Arturo is dead, too. Is that not why you are here? To bid on Viera y Filho?”

“Well, yeah, but I had no idea that—”

“You must be prepared to bid strongly, senhor.”

Hell. This was not a way to do business.

“What’s the place worth?”

The lawyer quoted a figure in Brazilian reals, quickly amended it to its U.S. dollar equivalent.

“That’s it? Fifty thousand is all?”

“That will cover the money owed the bank.” De Souza hesitated. “But if you bid, you will have to go much higher.” His voice fell to a whisper. “There is another interested party, you see.”

Dante had been to auctions before. He’d bought a couple of paintings at Sotheby’s. There was often another interested party but Sotheby’s hadn’t been like this. There was a sense of something not just competitive but raw in the air.

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