Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

The moment we were alone, I kissed her and it was rather disappointing. Nothing like the night before, her lips cool and aseptic and she very definitely held me at arm’s length.

She patted my cheek. “Hadn’t we better get moving?”

I couldn’t think of anything that would explain the change although I suppose, on looking back on it all, I was guilty of simply expecting too much, still young enough to believe that if you loved someone they were certain to love you back.

Anyway, I loaded the freight behind the seat in the observer’s cockpit and found her an old leather flying coat and helmet we kept for passengers. Three ground staff turned up about then, having seen us arrive and we got the Bristol outside.

I helped Joanna into the observer’s cockpit and strapped her in. “It’s essential you keep your goggles on,” I warned. “You’ll find a hell of a lot of insects about, especially as we take off and land.”

When she pulled the goggles down, she seemed more remote than ever, another person altogether, but that was possibly just my imagination. I climbed into the cockpit, did my checks and wound the starting magneto, while the three mechanics formed a chain and pulled the propeller.

The engine broke into noisy life. I looked over my shoulder to check that she was all right. She didn’t smile, simply nodded, so I eased the throttle open, taxied to the end of the runway, turned into the wind and took off feeling, for some unknown reason, thoroughly depressed.

The trip was something of a milk run for me by now, especially on a morning like this with perfect flying conditions. I suppose it must have had some interest for her although she certainly gave no sign of being particularly excited. In fact we only spoke twice over the voice pipe during the entire trip. Once as we turned up the Mortes from the Negro and I pointed out Forte Franco on the island below and again, as we approached Landor and I made preparations to land.

One thing did surprise me, the Hayley which was parked by the hangar. I had imagined it would be well on the way to Santa Helena by now.

As we rolled to a halt, Mannie came to meet us with a couple of labourers. He grinned up at me. “What kept you? Sam’s been like a cat on hot bricks, isn’t that what you say?”

“I didn’t know he cared,” I said and dropped to the ground.

“He doesn’t,” he replied and elbowed me out of the way as I turned to help Joanna down. “The privilege of age, Miss Martin.” He held up his hands.

She liked him, that much was obvious and her smile was of that special kind a woman reserves for a man she instantly recognises as good friend or father confessor. No strain, no cut-and-thrust, someone she would never have to surrender to or keep at arm’s length.

I made some kind of lame, formal introduction. Mannie said, “Now I understand why Sam’s been acting as if he’s been struck over the head with a Huna war club.” As I took off my flying helmet, he ruffled ray hair. “Has the boy here been treating you all right? Did he give you a good flight?”

I think it was the one and only time I ever felt angry with him and it showed for his smile faded slightly and there was concern in his eyes.

I turned away and Hannah came running across the airstrip rather fast considering the heat and the fact that he was dressed for flying. When he was about ten yards away, he slowed down as if suddenly realising he was making a fool of himself and came on at a walk.

He ignored me and said to Joanna Martin, “Satisfied now?”

“Oh, I think you could say that,” she said coolly. “Where’s Sister Maria Teresa?”

“When I last saw her she was down at the jetty having a look at the mission launch. Had some sort of crazy idea that you and she might sleep on board.”

“What’s wrong with the local hotel?”

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Categories: Higgins, Jack