I sat there in the silence after cutting the engine, my hands shaking, mouth dry, teeth clenched together in a kind of rictus, aware that Hannah had opened the rear door and had got out. When I opened mine, he was standing below lighting a cigarette in cupped hands.
He looked up and grinned, “It’s always rough the first time, kid.”
The grin was a mistake. I jumped straight at him and put my fist into it at the same time. We milled around there on the floor for a while, my hands at his throat and in spite of his enor-mous strength, I didn’t do too badly, mainly because surprise was on my side. I was aware of voices shouting, men running and then several different hands grabbed me at once and dragged me off him.
They clammed me hard up against the side of the Hayley, a sergeant holding the barrel of a revolver under my chin and then Colonel Alberto arrived. He waved the man with the re-volver away and looked me straight in the eye.
“It would pain me to have to arrest you, Senhor Mallory, but I will do so if necessary. You will please remember that military law only applies in this area. I am in sole command.”
“God damn you!” I said. ‘Don’t you realise what this swine’s just done? He’s killed at least fifty people and I helped him do it.”
Alberto turned to Hannah and produced a cigarette case from his tunic pocket which he offered to him. “It worked then?”
“Like a charm,” Hannah told him, and took a cigarette.
Alberto actually offered me one. I took it mechanically. “You know?”
“I was in a difficult situation, Senhor Mallory. I needed both of you to do the thing successfully and it did not seem likely, in view of the sentiments you expressed at our last meeting, that you would give your services willingly.”
“You’ve made me an accessory to murder.”
He shook his head and answered gravely, “A military opera-tion from start to finish and fully authorised by my superiors.”
“You lied to me,’ I said. ‘About wanting to talk with the Huna.”
“Not at all. Only now, having shown that we mean business, that we can Mt them hard when we want to, I can talk from a position of strength. You and Captain Hannah may very well prove to have been instrumental in bringing an end to this whole sorry business.”
“By butchering poor, bloody savages with high explosives dropped from the air.”
They stood around me in a semi-circle, the soldiers, few of them understanding for we spoke in English.
Hannah was quieter now, his face white and strained. “For God’s sake, Mallory, what about the nuns? Look what they did to Father Conte. They ate his heart, Mallory. They cut out his heart and ate it.”
My voice seemed to come from outside me and I was some-one else inside my head, listening to me talking. I said patiently, genuinely wanting him to understand, or so it seemed to me, “And what good does it do to act just as barbarically in return?”
It was Alberto who answered. “You have a strange morality, Senhor Mallory. For the Huna to rape and butcher the nuns, to roast men over a fire is acceptable. For my men to die in am-bush out there hi the forest is all part of some game for which you apparently can accept rules.”
“Now you’re twisting it. Making it something else.”
“I don’t think so. You would allow us to shoot them in a skirmish in the bush, but to kill them with dynamite from the air is different….”
I couldn’t think of anything to say for by then, reaction had set in and I was hopelessly confused.
“A bullet in the belly, an arrow in the back, a stick of dyna-mite from the air.” He shook his head. “There are no rules, Senhor Mallory. This is a dirty business. War has always been thus and this is war, believe me….”
I turned and walked away from them towards the Bristol. When I reached it, I leaned on the lower port wing for a while, then I took my flying helmet and goggles from one pocket of my leather jacket and put them on.