“Not that you had any choice in the matter.”
He moved out into the sunlight and Hannah came round the tail of the Hayley, buttoning the strap of his flying helmet, Mannieathisside.
“Okay, Colonel, let’s go!” he tailed. “The sooner I get you there, the sooner I’m back.”
“Can’t you wait?” I asked.
He hesitated, the cabin door of the Hayley half-open, then turned very slowly. His face had a look on it I’d seen before that first night atThe Little Boat, when he’d got rough with Lola.
He moved towards me and paused, no more than a foot in it ‘Just watch it, kid, that’s all,’ he said softly.
I told him what to do in good and concise Anglo-Saxon. I think for a moment there he was within an ace of having a go at me and then Mannie got between us, his face white. It wasn’t really necessary for Hannah turned abruptly, climbed up into the cabin where Alberto was already waiting and shut the door. A moment later the engine burst into life and he taxied away.
He took off too fast, banking steeply across the river, barely making it over the trees, all good showy stuff and strictly for my benefit, just to make it clear who was boss.
Mannie said softly, “This isn’t good, Neil. Not good at all. You know what Sam can be like. How unpredictable he is.”
“You make all the allowances for him you want,” I said. “But I’m damned if I will. Not any more.”
I left him there and walked along the edge of the airstrip towards the house. There was no sign of life when I got there, but the front door was open so I simply walked into the living-room.
I could hear the shower running so I lit a cigarette, sat on the window ledge and waited. After a while, the shower stopped. I could hear her singing and a little later, she entered the room dressed in an old robe, a towel tied around her head like a turban.
She stopped singing abruptly, eyebrows raised in surprise. “And what can I do for you? Did you forget something?”
“You can tell me what I’ve done,” I said.
She stood there, looking at me calmly for a long, long moment, then moved to where her handbag lay on a bamboo table, opened it, found herself a cigarette and a small mother-of-pearl lighter.
She blew out in a long column of smoke and said calmly, “Look, Mallory, I don’t owe you a thing. All right?”
Even then I couldn’t see it and in any case, after that, all I wanted to do was hurt her. I moved to the door and said, ‘Just one thing. How much do I owe you?’
She laughed in my face and I turned, utterly defeated, stumbled down the veranda steps and hurried away towards the river.
All right, so I didn’t know much about women, but I hadn’t deserved this. I wandered along the riverbank, a cigarette smouldering between my lips and finally found myself at the jetty.
There were several boats there, mainly canoes, but Figueiredo’s official launch was tied up and another belonging to one of the big land company agents. The mission launch was at the far end, Sister Maria Teresa in the rear cockpit I started to turn away, but it was already too late for she called to me by name and I had no choice, but to turn and walk down to the boat.
She smiled as I reached the rail “A beautiful morning, Mr Mallory.”
“For the moment.”
She nodded and said calmly, “Would you have such a thing as a cigarette to spare?”
I was surprised and showed it I suppose as I produced a packet and offered her one. “They’re only local, I’m afraid. Black tobacco.”
She blew out smoke expertly and smiled. “Don’t you approve? Nuns are only human, you know, flesh and blood like anyone else.”
“I’m sure you are. Sister.” I started to turn away.
She said, “I get the distinct impression that you do not approve of me, Mr Mallory. If I hadn’t called out to you, you wouldn’t have stopped to talk. Isn’t that so?”