Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“Just about everything so I’ve arranged for you both to move into my place. I’ll take you up there now and show you round, then I’ve got to run Alberto up to Santa Helena.”

He picked up her suitcase and I said, “What are the rest of us supposed to do?”

He barely glanced at me. “We can manage in hammocks down here in the hangar for a few nights. Mannie’s moved your gear out.”

He took her arm and they started to walk away. He paused after a few yards and called over his shoulder, “I’d get that mail up to Figueiredo fast if I were you, kid. He’s had the district runners standing by for an hour.”

“And that puts you in your place,” Mannie said and started to laugh.

For a moment, the anger flared up in me again and then, for some unaccountable reason, I found myself laughing with him. “Women,” I said.

“Exactly. We have all the trees in the world and an abund-ance of fruit. All we needed was Eve.” He shook his head and picked up the mail sack. “I’ll take this up to Figueiredo for you. You go and have a cup of coffee and relax. I can see you’ve had a hard morning.”

He walked away towards town and I got my grip out of the Bristol and went into the hangar. He’d fixed three hammocks on the other side of the radio installation with a wall of pack-ing cases five or six feet high to give some sort of privacy. There was a table and three chairs and a pot of coffee simmered gently on a double-ring oil stove.

I poured some into a tin mug, lit a cigarette and eased myself into one of the hammocks. I couldn’t get Joanna Martin out of my mind – the change in her. It didn’t seem to make any kind of sense at all, especially in view of the fact that she’d deliberately chosen to travel with me in the Bristol instead of in the Hayley.

My chain of thought was interrupted by Alberto who appeared in the gap in the end wall of packing cases. “Camping out, I see, Mr Mallory.”

“Hannah isn’t here. He took the Martin girl up to the house.”

“I am aware of that. It’s you I want to see.” He found another tin mug and helped himself to coffee. “I’ve spent most of the morning arguing with Sister Maria Teresa who insists on her right to proceed to Santa Helena.” He shook his head sadly. “God protect me from the good and the innocent”

“A formidable combination,” I said. “Are you going to let her go?’

“I don’t see how I can prevent it. You’ve seen the authorisa-tion she and the Martin woman have? Counter-signed by the president himself.” He shrugged “If she decided to start up-riverin the mission launch now, this very morning, how could I stop her, except by force and there would be the very devil to pay if I did that.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“You’ve heard my man managed to make contact with the Huna? Well, he’s arranged a meeting for me tomorrow at noon in a patch ofcampo near the river about a mile upstream from the mission.”

“How many will be there?”

“One chief and five elders. It’s a start, no more. A preliminary skirmish. I’m supposed to go on my own except for Pedro, of course, the half-breed who’s made the contact for me. What do you think?”

“It should be quite an experience.”

“Yes, stimulating to put it mildly. I was wondering whether you might consider coming with me?”

The impudence of the request was breathtaking. I sat up and swung my legs to the floor. “Why me?”

“You know more about Indians than anyone else I know. You could be of considerable assistance in the negotiations.”

“How far is it to the river if we have to start running?”

He smiled. “See how you feel about it tomorrow. Hannah will be flying the women in first thing in the morning. You could come with them. I’ve agreed to let them look over the mission.”

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