Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

There was a short passage with the entrance to the bar at the far end and Figueiredo was standing on this side of the bead curtain peering through presumably keeping out of the way.

He glanced over his shoulder at my approach. I motioned him to silence and peered through. They were still grouped around the table, Hannah in the chair next to Avila. He was face-down across the table, quite obviously hopelessly drunk. As I watched, Avila pulled him upright by the hair, jerking the head back so that the mouth gaped.

He picked up a jug ofcachaca and poured in about a pint “You like that, senhor? The wine of the country, eh?”

Hannah started to choke and Avila released him so that he fell back across the table. The rest of them seemed to find this enormously funny and one of them emptied a glass over the American’s head.

There was a sudden silence as Mannie moved into view from the right In the old sou’wester and yellow oilskin he could easily have looked ridiculoussyet didn’t, which was a strange tiling. He walked towards the group at the same steady pace and paused.

Avila said, “Go away, there is nothing for you here.”

Mannie’s face was paler than ever. “Not without Captain Hannah.”

Avila’s hand came up holding a revolver. He cocked it very deliberately so I produced the automatic shotgun I had been holding under my oilskin coat and shoved Figueriedo out of the way. There was a wooden post on the far side of Avila, one of several set into the floor to help support the plank ceiling. It was the kind of target that even I couldn’t miss. I took care-ful aim and fired. The post disintegrated in the centre and part of the ceiling sagged.

I have seldom seen men scatter faster than they did and when I stepped through the bead curtain, shotgun ready, they were all flat on the floor except for Avila who crouched on one knee beside Hannah, revolver ready.

“I’d put it down if I were you,’ I told him. ‘This is a six-shot automatic and I’m using steel ball cartridges.”

He placed his gun very carefully on the table and stood back, eyeing me balefully. I went round the end of the bar and handed the shotgun to Mannie. Then I dropped to one knee beside Hannah, heaved him over my shoulder and stood up.

Avila said, “I will remember this, senhors. My turn will come.”

I didn’t bother to answer, simply turned and walked out and Mannie followed, the shotgun under one arm.

Hannah started to vomit halfway down the street and by the time we reached the house, there couldn’t have been much left him him. We stripped him between us and got him into the shower which revived him a little, but the truth was that he was saturated with alcohol and partly out of his mind, I think, as we put him to bed.

He thrashed about for a while, hands plucking at himself. As I leaned over him, his eyes opened. He stared up at me, a slight frown on his face and smiled.

“You new, Kid? Just out from England?”

“Something like that” I glanced at Mannie who made no sign.

“If you last a week you’ve got a chance.” He grabbed me by the front of my flying jacket. “I’ll give you a tip. Never cross the line alone under ten thousand feet, that’s lesson number one.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said.

“And the sun – watch the sun.”

I think he was trying to say more but his head fell to one side and he passed out again.

I said, “He thought he was back on the Western Front.”

Mannie nodded. “Always the same. Hopelessly trapped by the past.”

He tucked the blankets in around Hannah’s shoulders very carefully and I went into the living-room. It had stopped rain-ing and moisture, drawn by the heat, rose from the ground out-side like smoke.

It was still cool in the bedroom and I lay down and stared up at the ceiling, thinking about Sam Hannah, the man who had once had everything and now had nothing. And after a while, I drifted into sleep.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack