Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“As a pilot?” Thecomandante’s eyes went up and he turned to me. “This is so, senhor?”

“Quite true,” I said.

Hannah grinned slightly and thecomandante looked dis-tinctly relieved “All is in order then.” He stood up and held out his hand. “If anything of interest does materialise in con-nection with this unfortunate affair, senhor, I’ll know where to find you.”

I shook hands – it would have seemed churlish not to – and shuffled outside. I kept right on going and had reached the pillared entrance hall before Hannah caught up with me. I sat down on a marble bench in a patch of sunlight and he stood in front of me looking genuinely uncertain.

“Did I do right, back there?”

I nodded wearily. “I’m obliged to you – really, but what about this Portuguese you were expecting?”

“He loses, that’s all.” He sat down beside me. “Look, I know you wanted to get home, but it could be worse. You can move in with Mannie at Landro and a room at the Palace on me between trips. Your keep and a hundred dollars American a week.”

The terms were generous by any standards. I said, “That’s fine by me.”

“There’s just one snag. Like I said, I’m living on credit at the moment. That means I won’t have the cash to pay you till I get that government bonus at the end of my contract which means sticking out this last three months with me. Can you face that?”

“I don’t have much choice, do I?”

I got up and walked out into the entrance. He said, with what sounded like genuine admiration in his voice, “By God but you’re a cool one, Mallory. Doesn’t anything ever throw you?”

“Last night was last night,” I told him. “Today’s something else again. Do we fly up to Landro this afternoon?”

He stared at me, a slight frown on his face, seemed about to make some sort of comment, then obviously changed his mind, “We ought to,” he said. “There’s the fortnightly run to the mission station at Santa Helena, to make tomorrow. There’s only one thing. The Bristol ought to go, too. I want Mannie to check that engine out as soon as possible. That means both of us will have to fly. Do you feel up to it?”

“That’s what I’m getting paid for,” I said and shuffled down the steps towards the cab waiting at the bottom.

The airstrip Hannah was using at Manaus at that time wasn’t much. A wooden administration hut with a small tower and a row of decrepit hangar sheds backed on to the river, roofed with rusting corrugated iron. It was a derelict sort of place and the Hayley, the only aircraft on view, looked strangely out of place, its scarlet and silver trim gleaming in the after-noon sun.

It was siesta so there was no one around. I dropped my canvas grip on the ground beside the Hayley. It was so hot that I took off my flying jacket – and very still except for an occasional roar from a bull-throated howler monkey in the trees at the river’s edge.

There was a sudden rumble behind and when I turned, Hannah was pushing back the sliding door on one of the sheds.

“Well, here she is,” he said.

The Bristol fighter was one of the really great combat aircraft of the war and it served overseas with the R.A.F. until well into the thirties. As I’ve said, there were still one or two around on odd stations in England when I was learning to fly and I’d had seven or eight hours in them.

But this one was an original – a veritable museum piece. She had a fuselage which had been patched so many times it was ridiculous and in one place, it was still possible to detect the faded rondel of the R.A.F.

Before I could make any kind of comment, Hannah said, “Don’t be put off by the state of the fuselage. She’s a lot better than she looks. Structurally as sound as a bell and I don’t think there’s much wrong with the engine. The guy I bought it from had her for fifteen years and didn’t use her all that much. God knows what her history was before that. The log book’s missing.”

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