Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

He smiled with devastating charm and rushed forward with a sort of boyish eagerness, hands outstretched. “And this will be Miss Joanna Martin. Couldn’t very well be anyone else.”

He held her hands in his for what seemed to me no good reason. I said, “What in the hell is going on here?”

“You might as well ask, kid.” He yelled for the waiter and pulled off his coat. “A lot happened since you left this morning. Alberto got through to me on the radio in the middle of the afternoon. Wanted me to pick him up at Santa Helena and fly him straight down to Manaus. We got in about an hour and a half ago. Met Miss Martin’s companion at the hotel. When I left, she and the colonel were having quite an argument”

“What’s it all about?”

“That half-breed of Alberto’s, the guy who’d lived with the Huna. Well, Alberto put him over the river last evening and by God, he was back at noon today.”

“You mean he’d made contact?”

“Sure had.” The waiter arrived at this point with a couple of bottles of Pouilly Fuisse in a bucket of water. “According to him, all the tribesmen along the river had already heard what had happened to that village we visited and were scared stiff. A delegation of head men have agreed to meet Alberto a couple of miles up-river from the mission day after tomorrow.”

“Sounds too good to be true to me,” I said and meant it

But Joanna Martin didn’t think so. She sat down beside him and said eagerly, “Do you think they’ll be able to get news of my sister?”

“Certain to.” He took one of her hands again. “It’s going to be fine. I promise you.”

After that, to say that they got on like a house on fire would have been something of an understatement. I sat in the wings, as it were, and watched while they talked a lot, laughed a great deal and finally went down to join the small crowd on the dance floor.

I wasn’t the only one who was put out. I caught a flash of scarlet in the half-light, Lola watching from behind a pillar. I knew then what the saying meant by a woman scorned. She looked capable of putting a knife between Hannah’s shoulder blades if given half a chance.

I don’t know what was said between the two on the floor, but when the band stopped playing, they moved across to the piano and Hannah sat down. As I’ve said before, he was a fair pianist and moved straight into a solid, pushing arrangement ofSt Louis Blues and Joanna Martin took the vocal.

She was good – better than I’d thought she would be. She gave it everything she had, a sort of total dedication and the crowd loved it. They followed withNight and Day andBegin the Beguine which was a tremendous hit that autumn and all one seemed to hear from radios everywhere, even on the River Amazon.

But by then I’d had enough. I left them to it, negotiated the catwalk to the jetty and walked morosely back to the hotel in the pouring rain.

I had been in bed for at least an hour, had just begun to drift into sleep when Hannah’s voice brought me sharply to my senses. I got out of bed, padded to the door and opened it. He was obviously very drunk, standing with Joanna Martin outside the door of what I presumed must be her room at the end of the corridor.

He was trying to kiss her in that clumsy, uncoordinated way a drunken man has. She obviously didn’t need any assistance because she was laughing about it.

I closed the door, went back beneath the mosquito net and lit a cigarette, I don’t know what I was shaking with – rage or thwarted desire, or both, but I lay there smoking furiously and cursing everyone who ever lived – until my door opened and closed again softly. The bolt clicked into place and there was silence.

I sensed her presence there in the darkness even before I smelled the perfume. She said, “Stop sulking. I know you’re in there. I can see your cigarette.”

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Categories: Higgins, Jack