Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

Too late, for Maria of the Angels was already long gone into the darkness.


The Immelmarm Turn

The stem-wheeler left on time the following morning, but without me. At high noon when she must have been thirty or forty miles down-river, I was sitting outside thecomandante’s office again for the second time in two days, listening to the voices droning away inside.

After a while, the outside door opened and Hannah came in. He was wearing flying clothes and looked tired, his face unshaven, the eyes hollow from lack of sleep. He’d had a con-tract run to make at ten o’clock, only a short hop of fifty miles or so down-river for one of the mining companies, but some-thing that couldn’t be avoided.

He sat on the edge of the sergeant’s desk and lit a cigarette, regarding me anxiously. “How do you feel?”

“About two hundred years old.”

“God damn that bitch.” He got to his feet and paced restlessly back and forth across the room. “If there was only something I could do.” He turned to face me, really looking his age for the first time since I’d known him. “I might as well level with you, kid. Every damn tiling I buy round here from fuel to booze is on credit. The Bristol ate up all the ready cash I had. When my government contract is up in another three months, I’m due a reasonable enough bonus, but until then…”

“Look, forget about it,” I said.

“I took you to the bloody place, didn’t I?”

He genuinely felt responsible, I could see that and couldn’t do much about it, a hard thing for a man like him to accept, for his position in other people’s eyes, their opinion was im-portant to him.

“I’m free, white and twenty-one, isn’t that what you say in the States?” I said. “Anything I got, I asked for, so have a decent cigarette for a change and shut up.”

I held out the tin of Balkan Sobranie and the door to thecomandante’s office opened and the sergeant appeared.

“You will come in now, Senhor Maillory?”

I stood up and walked into the room rather slowly which was understandable under the circumstances. Hannah simply followed me inside without asking anyone’s permission.

Thecomandante nodded to him. “Senhor Hannah.”

“Maybe there’s something I can do,” Hannah said.

Thecomandante managed to look as sorrowful as only a Latin can and shook his head. “A bad business, Senhor Mallory. You say there was a thousandcruzieros in the wallet besides your passport?”

I sank into the nearest chair. “Nearer to eleven hundred.”

“You could have had her for the night for five, senhor. To carry that kind of money on your person was extremely foolish.”

“No sign of her at all, then?” Hannah put in. “Surely to God somebody must know the bitch.”

“You know the type, senhor. Working the river, moving from town to town. No one atThe Little Boat had ever seen her before. She rented a room at a house near the water-front, but had only been there three days.”

“What you’re trying to say is that she’s well away from Manaus by now and the chances of catching her are remote,” I said.

“Exactly, senhor. The truth is always painful. She was three-quarters Indian. She will probably go back to her people for a while. All she has to do is take off her dress. They all look the same.’ He helped himself to a long black cigar from a box on his desk. ‘None of which helps you. I am sensible of this. Have you funds that you can draw on?”

“Not a penny.”

“So?” He frowned. “The passport is not so difficult. An appli-cation to the British Consul in Belem backed by a letter from me should remedy that situation within a week or two, but as the law stands at present, all foreign nationals are required to produce evidence of employment if they do not possess private means.”

I knew exactly what he meant There were public work gangs for people like me.

Hannah moved round to the other end of the room where he could look at me and nodded briefly. He said calmly, “No difficulty there. Senhor Mallory was considering coming to work for me anyway.”

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