Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

Behind me, the sliding doors opened, then closed again. I turned impatiently and found Joanna Martin standing there.

“Do you think we could start again?” she said.

There was a spare glass on the table. I filled it with wine and held it out to her. “How did you find me?”

“Old Juca at the hotel. He was very kind. Got me a cab with a driver who bore a strong resemblance to King Kong. Gave him strict instructions to deliver me here in one piece.” She walked to the rail and looked out across the river. “This is nice.”

I didn’t know what to say, but she took care of it all more than adequately. “I think we got off on the wrong foot Mr Mallory. I’d like to try again.”

“Neil,” I said.

“All right.” She smiled. “I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong im-pression of me entirely. Joanna Martin’s my stage came. Originally I was just plain Joan Kowalski of Grantville, Penn-sylvania.” Her voice changed completely, dropped into an accent she probably hadn’t used in years. “My daddy was a coalminer. What was yours?”

I laughed out loud. “A small-town lawyer. What we call a solicitor in England, at a place called Wells in Somerset A lovely old town near the Mendip Hills.”

“It sounds marvellous.”

“It is, especially now in the autumn. Rooks in the elms by the cathedral. The dank, wet smell of rotting leaves blowing across the river.”

For a moment I was almost there. She leaned on the rail. “Grantville was never like that. We had three things worth men-tioning, none of which I ever wish to see again. Coalmines, steelworks and smoke. I didn’t even look back once when I left.”

“And your sister?”

“We were orphaned when she was three and I was eight The nuns raised me. I guess it became a habit with her.”

“And what about you?”

“I’m doing fine. Sing with some of the best bands in the country. Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Sammy Kaye.” There was a perceptible change in her voice as she said this, a surface brash-ness as if she was really speaking for an audience. “I’ve played second lead in two musicals in succession on Broadway.”

“All right.” I held up both hands defensively. “I’m convinced.”

“And you?” She leaned back against the rail. “What about you? Why Brazil?”

So I told her, from the beginning right up until that present moment, including a few items on the way that I don’t think I’d ever mentioned to another living soul, such was the effect she had on me.

“So here we are,” she said at last when I was finished. “The two of us at the edge of nowhere. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

The moon clouded over, sheet lightning flickered wildly, the rain came with a sudden rush bouncing from the awning above our heads.

“Romantic, isn’t it?” I said. “We get this every day of the week at sometime or another. Imagine what it’s like in the rainy season.” I refilled her glass with wine. “Bougainvilleas, acacias and God knows how many different varieties of poisonous snakes that can kill you in seconds. As for the river, if it isn’t the alligators orpirhanas, it’s water snakes so long they’ve been known to turn a canoe over and take the occupants down. Almost everything that looks nice is absolutely deadly. You should have tried Hollywood instead. Much safer on Stage 6.”

“That comes next month. I’ve got a screen test with M.G.M.” She smiled, then reached out to touch me, her hand flat against my chest, the smile fading. “I’ve got to know, Neil. Just to know, one way or the other. Can you understand that?”

“Of course I can.” My hand fastened over hers and I was shak-ing like a kid on his first date. “Would you like to dance?”

She nodded, moving against me and behind us, the sliding door was pulled open. “So this is what you get up to when my back is turned?” Hannah said as he came through.

He was dressed in flying clothes and badly in need of a shave, but he was a romantic enough figure in his leather coat and breeches, a white scarf knotted carelessly about his neck.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack