“Our authorisation to travel, counter-signed by the president himself.” Enough to bring Alberto’s heels together sharply, so much was certain and enough for me.
“All right, have it your own way. If you want to know what it’s like to fly two hundred miles over some of the worst jungle in South America in the oldest plane in the territory, be at the airstrip at eight-thirty. As it happens, the rear cockpit’s been enlarged to carry cargo, but there’s only one seat. One of you will have to sit on the floor.”
I swallowed the rest of my beer and moved round the bar. “And now you’ll really have to excuse me. It’s been a long day.”
Sister Maria Teresa nodded. “Of course.”
Joanna Martin said nothing, simply picked up my grip and handed it to me, a gesture totally unexpected and quite out of character. My fingers touched hers as I took it and there was the perfume. God knows what it was but the effect was electrifying. I had never experienced such direct and immediate excitement from any woman and my stomach went hollow.
And she knew, damn her, I was certain of that, her mouth lifting slightly to one side as if in amusement at men and their perpetual hunger. I turned from that scorn and went out quickly.
There was still no sign of Juca but when I went up to my usual room, I found him turning down the sheets.
“Your bath is ready, Senhor Mallory,” he told me in that strange, melancholy whisper of his. “You wish to eat here after-wards?”
I shook my head. “I think I’ll go out. If anyone wants me I’ll be atTheLittle Boat. ”
“The senhor has seen the ladies who were waiting for him downstairs?”
“Yes. Are they staying here?”
He nodded and withdrew and I stripped, pulled on an old robe and went along the corridor to the bathroom. The water was hot enough to bring sweat to my face and I lay there for half an hour, soaking away the fatigue of the day and thinking about the two women in the bar. Sister Maria Teresa was familiar enough. One of those odd people who live by faith alone and who seem to be able to survive most things, pro-tected by the armour of their own innocence.
Joanna Martin’s presence was more difficult to explain. God knows who had advised her to come. Certainly they must have an awful lot of pull between them to get hold of that authorisa-tion with the president’s signature on it Colonel Alberto was not going to be pleased about that
I went back to my room, towelling my head, briskly and started to dress. I’d actually got my trousers on and was pull-ing a dean linen shirt over my head when a slight noise made me turn quickly, one hand sliding towards the butt of the.45 automatic which lay on the dressing-table in its shoulder har-ness.
Joanna Martin moved in from the balcony, closing her para-sol. “Don’t shoot,” she said coolly. “I’m all I’ve got.”
I stood looking at her, without saying anything, noticing the face for the first time. Not really beautiful, yet different enough to make her noticeable in any crowd. Auburn hair, obviously regularly attended to by a top hairdresser. Good bones, an up-turned nose that made her look younger than she was, hazel eyes spaced widely apart, curious golden flecks glinting in them.
I wondered how she’d look after a week up-river. I also won-dered how that hair would look spread across a pillow. The physical ache was there again and disturbing in its intensity.
“The door was unlocked,” she explained. “And the old man said you were in the bath. I thought I’d wait.”
I tucked in my shirt and reached for my shoulder harness. For some reason I found difficulty in speaking. That damned perfume, I suppose, the actual physical presence of her.
“Do you really need that thing?” she asked.
“It’s a rough town after dark,” I said. “Now what can I do for you?”
“Tell me the truth for a start.”
She moved back to the balcony. Outside the sky was orange and black, the sun a ball of fire. Standing there, against the light her legs were clearly outlined through the flimsy dress.