Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“Cachaca” Hannah said. “They say it rots the brain, as well as the liver, but it’s all these poor bastards can afford.” He raised his voice, “Heh, Figueiredo, what about some service.”

He unbuttoned his coat and dropped into a basket chair by one of the open shutters. A moment later, I heard a step and a man moved through the bead curtain at the back of the bar.

Eugemo Figueiredo wasn’t by any means a large man, but he was fat enough for life to be far from comfortable for him in a climate such as that one. The first time I saw him, he was shining with sweat in spite of the palm fan in his right hand which he used vigorously. His shirt clung to his body, the moisture soaking through and the stink of him was the strongest I have known in a human being.

He was somewhere in his middle years, a minor public official in spite of his responsibilities, too old for change and without the slightest hope of preferment. As much a victim of fate as anyone else in Landro. His amiability was surprising in the circumstances.

“Ah, Captain Hannah.”

An Indian woman came through the curtain behind him. He said something to her then advanced to join us.

Hannah made the introduction casually as he lit a cigarette. Figueiredo extended a moist hand. “At your orders, senhor.”

“At yours,” I murmured.

The smell was really overpowering although Hannah didn’t appear in any way put out I sat on the sill by the open shutter which helped and Figueiredo sank into a basket chair at the table.

“You are an old Brazilian hand, I think, Senhor Mallory,” he observed. “Your Portuguese is too excellent for it to be otherwise.”

“Lately I’ve been in Pern,” I said. “But before that, I did a year on the Xingu.”

“If you could survive that, you could survive anything.”

He crossed himself piously. The Indian woman arrived with a tray which she set down on the table. There was Bourbon, a bottle of some kind of spa water and three glasses.

“You will join me senhors?”

Hannah half-filled a sizeable tumbler and didn’t bother with water. I took very little, in fact only drank at all as a matter of courtesy which, I think, Figueiredo was well aware of.

Hannah swallow it down and helped himself to more, star-ing morosely into the rain. “Look at it,” he said. “What a bloody place.”

It was one of those statements that didn’t require any com-ment. The facts spoke for themselves. A group of men turned out from between two houses and trailed towards the hotel, heads down, in a kind of uniform of rubberponcho and straw sombrero. “Who have we got here?” Hannah demanded.

Figueiredo leaned forward, the fan in his hand ceasing for a moment. It commenced to flutter again. “Garimpeiros,” he said. “Avila’s bunch. Came in last night Lost two men in a brush with the Hum.”

Hannah poured another enormous whisky. “From what I hear of that bastard, he probably shot them himself.”

There were five of them, as unsavoury-looking a bunch as I had ever seen. Little to choose between any of them really. The same gaunt, fleshless faces, the same touch of fever in all the eyes.

Avila was the odd man out. A big man. Almost as large as Hannah, with a small, cruel mouth that was effeminate in its way although that was perhaps suggested more by the pencil-thin moustache which must have taken him considerable pains to cultivate.

He nodded to Figueiredo and Hannah, the eyes pausing fractionally on me, then continued to a table at the far end of the bar, his men trailing after him. When they took off their ponchos it became immediately obvious that they were all armed to the teeth and most of them carried amachete in a leather sheath as well as a bolstered revolver.

The Indian woman went to serve them. One of them put a hand up her skirt. She didn’t try to resist, simply stood there like some dumb animal while another reached up to fondle her breasts.

“Nice people,” Hannah said, although Figueiredo seemed completely unperturbed which was surprising in view of the fact that the woman, as I learned later, washis wife.

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