Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“There isn’t one,” I said. “There’s too much here worth the having. Diamonds in the rivers, every kind of mineral ever heard of and probably a few we haven’t. Now what man worth his salt would let a bunch of Stone-Age savages stand between him and a slice of that kind of cake?”

He smiled sadly and put a hand on my shoulder. “A dirty world, my friend.”

“And I’ve had too much to drink considering the time of day.”

“Exactly. Go have a shower and I’ll make some coffee.”

I did as he suggested, sluicing myself in lukewarm water for ten minutes or so. As I was dressing, there was a knock at the door and Figueiredo stuck his head in.

“A bad business.” He sank into the nearest chair, mopping his face with a handkerchief. “I’ve just been on the radio to Santa Helena, giving Alberto the good news.

The military had installed a much more powerful radio trans-mitter and receiving unit than his in the hangar and had left a young corporal to man it.

“Hannah stayed up there overnight,” I said as I pulled on my flying jacket. “Any word from him?”

Figueiredo nodded. “He wants you to join him as soon as possible.”

“At Santa Helena?” I shook my head. “You must have got it wrong. I’ve gotthe mail run to make to Manaus.”

“Cancelled. You’re needed on military business which takes precedence.”

“Well, that’s intriguing,” I said. “Any idea what it’s all about?”

He shook his head. “Not my business to know. Where military affairs are concerned, I have no jurisdiction at all and what’s more, I like it that way.”

Mannie kicked open the door and came in with coffee in two tin cups. “You’ve heard?” I said.

He nodded. “I’d better get across to the hangar and get the Bristol ready to move.”

I stood at the window beside Figueiredo, sipping my coffee, gazing down towards the jetty. A cart came towards us, pulled by a couple of half-starved oxen, a collection of moving bones held together by a bag of skin. The driver kept them going by sticking a six-inch nail on the end of a pole beneath their tails at frequent intervals.

As the cart went by, the smell told us what was inside. Figueiredo turned, an expression of acute distaste on his face. He opened his mouth to speak and the rain came down in a sudden rush, rattling on the corrugated-iron roof, drowning all sound.

We stood there together and watched the cart disappear into the gloom.

It was still raining when I took off, not that I was going to let that put me off. The massacre of Santa Helena had been worse, but the two poor wretches in the canoe had brought a whiff of the open grave with them, a touch of unease, a feeling that some-thing waited out there in the trees across the river. Landro was definitely a place to put behind you on such a morning.

I followed the river all the way and seeing no reason to push hard, especially once I ran out of the rain, took a good hour over getting there, giving myself time to enjoy the flight.

I went in low over Santa Helena itself, just to see how things stood. The mission launch was just leaving the jetty and moving down-river, but the old forty-foot military gunboat was still there. A couple of soldiers moved out of the hospital and waved and Hannah came out of the priest’s house. I circled again, then cut across the river and dropped into the airstrip.

There was a permanent guard of ten men with two heavy machine-guns. The sergeant in charge detailed one man to take me up to Santa Helena in a dinghy powered by an outboard motor.

Hannah was waiting at the end of the jetty, smoking a ciga-rette. “You took your own sweet time about getting here,’ he commented sourly.”

“Nobody told me there was any rush,” I said as I scrambled up on to the jetty. “What’s it all about anyway?”

“We’re going to drop a few Christmas presents into your friends the Huna,” he said.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack