Flying the Hayley was like driving a car after what I’d been used to and the truth is, there wasn’t much enjoyment in it Everything worked to perfection, it was the last word in com-fort and engine noise was reduced to a minimum. Hannah was beside me and Colonel Alberto sat in one of the front passenger seats, his sergeant behind to preserve, I suppose, the niceties of military rank.
Hannah opened a Thermos flask, poured coffee into two cups and passed one back. “Still hoping to get the nuns to move on, Colonel?” he asked.
“Not really,” Alberto said. “I raise the matter with Father Conte on each visit, usually over the sherry, because it is part of my standing orders from Army Command Headquarters. A meaningless ritual, I fear. The Church has considerable influence in government circles and at the highest possible level. No one is willing to order them to leave. The choice is theirs and they see themselves as having a plain duty to take God and modern medicine to the Indians.”
“In that order?” Hannah said and laughed for the first time that morning.
“And the Huna?” I said. “What do they think?”
“The Huna, Senhor Mallory, want no one. Did you know what their name means in their own language? The enemy of all men. Anthropologists talk of the noble savage, but there is nothing noble about the Huna. They are probably the cruellest people on earth.”
“They were there first,” I said.
“That’s what they used to say about the Sioux back home,” Hannah put in.
“An interesting comparison,” Alberto said. “Look at the United States a century ago and look at her now. Well, this is our frontier, one of the richest undeveloped areas in the world. God alone knows how far we can go in the next fifty years, but one thing is certain – progress is inevitable and these people stand in the way of that progress.”
“So what answer have you got?” I said. “Extermination.”
“Not if they can be persuaded to change. The choice is theirs.”
“Which gives them no choice at all.” I was surprised to hear my own bitternness.
Alberto said, “Figueiredo was telling me you spent a year in the Xingu River country, Senhor Mallory. The Indians in that area have always been particularly troublesome. This was so when you were there?”
I nodded reluctantly.
“Did you ever kill one?”
“All right,” I said. “I was at Forte Tomas hi November thirty-six when they attacked the town and butchered thirty or forty people.”
“A bad business,” he said. “You must have been with the survivors who took refuge in the church and held them off for a week till the military arrived. You must have killed many times during that unfortunate episode.”
“Only because they were trying to kill me.”
I could see him in my mirror as he leaned back and took a file from his briefcase, effectively putting an end to the con-versation.
Hannah grinned, “I’d say the colonel’s made his point.”
“Maybe he has,” I said, “but it still isn’t going to help the Huna.”
“But why hi the hell world would any sensible person want to do that?” he seemed surprised. ‘They’ve had their day, Mallory, just like the dinosaurs.”
“Doomed to extinction, you mean?”
“Exactly.” He groaned and put a hand to his head. “Christ, there’s someone walking around inside with hob-nailed boots.”
I gave up. Maybe they were right and I was wrong – per-haps the Huna had to go under and there was no other choice. I pushed the thought away from me, eased back the stick and climbed into the sunlight.
The whole trip took no more than forty minutes, mostly in bright sunshine although as we approached our destination we ran into another of those sudden violent rainstorms and I had to go down fast.
Visibility was temporarily so poor that Hannah took over the controls in the final stages, taking her down to two hundred feet at which height we could at least see the river. He throttled back and side-slipped neatly into the landing strip which was a large patch ofcampo on the east bank of the river.