“You know, I’m a great believer in hunches. I go by what I think of people, instantly, in the very first moment. Now you interest me. You are your own man, a rare tiling in this day and age. Tell me about yourself.”
So I did for he was die easiest man to talk to I’d ever known. He spoke only briefly himself, the odd question thrown in casually now and then, yet at the end of things, he had squeezed me dry.
He said, “A good thing Sam was able to help you when he did, but then I’m also a great believer in fate. A man has to exist in the present moment. Accept what turns up. It’s im-possible to live any other way. I have a book at the house which you should read. Kant’sCritique of Pure Reason.”
“I have done,” I said.
He turned, eyebrows raised in some surprise. “You agree with his general thesis?”
“Not really. I don’t think anything in this life is certain enough for fixed rules to apply. You have to take what comes and do the best you can.”
“Then Heidegger is your man. I have a book of his which would interest you in which he argues that for authentic living what is necessary is the resolute confrontation of death. Tell me, were you afraid yesterday when you were attempting to land that Vega of yours?”
“Only afterwards.” I grinned. “The rest of the time, I was too busy trying to hold the damned thing together.”
“You and Heidegger would get on famously.”
“And what would he think of Hannah?”
“Not very much, I’m afraid. Sam exists in two worlds only. The past and the future. He has never succeded in coming to terms with the present. That is his tragedy.”
“So what’s left for him?”
He turned and looked at me gravely, the spanner in his right hand dripping oil. “I only know one thing with certainty. He should have died in combat at the height of his career like so many others. At the last possible moment of the war. November 1918, for preference.”
It was a terrible thing to have to say and yet he meant it. I knew that. We stood staring at each other, the only sound the rain rushing into the ground. He wiped the oil from his hands with a piece of cotton waste and smiled sadly.
“Now I think we had better go and get him while there isstill time.”
I could hear the laughter from the hotel long before we got there and it was entirely the wrong sort. I knew then we were in for trouble and so did Mannie. His face beneath the old sou’wester he wore against the rain was very pale.
As we approached the hotel steps I said, “This man, Avila? What’s he like?”
He paused in the middle of the street. “There’s a story I’m fond of about an old Hassidic Rabbi who, having no money around the house, gave one of his wife’s rings to a beggar. When he told her what he’d done she went into hysterics be-cause the ring was a family heirloom and very valuable. On hearing this, the Rabbi ran through the streets looking for the beggar.”
“To get his ring back?”
“No, to warn him of its true value in case anyone tried to cheat him when he sold it.”
I laughed out loud, puzzled. “What’s that got to do with Avila?”
“Nothing much, I suppose.” He grinned wryly. “Except that he isn’t like that.”
We turned into the alley at the side of the hotel and paused again. “You’ll find the kitchen door just round the corner as I described,’ he said. ‘Straight through to the bar. You can’t miss it.”
There was another burst of laughter from inside, “They seem to be enjoying themselves.”
“I’ve heard laughter like that before. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. Good luck,” he added briefly and went round to the front of the hotel.
The kitchen door he had mentioned stood open and Figueiredo’s wife was seated on a chair slicing vegetables into a bowl on her knee. I stepped past her, ignoring her look of astonishment and walked across the kitchen to the opposite door.