Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“She’s yours?”

He nodded. “A Huna girl. I bought her just over a year ago.”

We’d spoken in Portuguese and I turned to give Joanna a translation. “There’s nothing to be done. The girl belongs to him.”

“What do you mean, belongs to him?”

“He bought her, probably when her parents died. It’s com-mon enough up-river and legal.”

Bought her?’ First there was incredulity in her eyes, then a kind of white-hot rage. ‘Well, I’m damn well buying her back,’ she said. ‘How much will this big ape take?”

“Actually he speaks excellent English,” I said. “Why not ask him yourself.”

She was really angry by then, scrabbled in her handbag and produced a hundredcruzeiro note which she thrust at Avila. “Will this do?”

He accepted it with alacrity and bowed politely. “A pleasure to do business with you, senhorita,” he said and made off rapidly up the street in the direction of the hotel.

The girl waited quietly for whatever new blow fate had in store for her, that impassive Indian face giving nothing away. I questioned her in Portuguese which she seemed to under-stand reasonably well.

I said to Joanna. “She’s a Huna all right. Her name is Christina and she’s sixteen. Her father was a wild rubber tapper. He and the mother died from small-pox three years ago. Some woman took her in then sold her to Avila last year. What do you intend to do with her?”

“God knows,” she said. “A shower wouldn’t be a bad idea to start with, but if s more Sister Maria Teresa’s department than mine. How much did I pay for her, by the way?”

“About fifty dollars – a hundredcruzeiros. Avila can take his pick of girls like her for ten which leaves him ninety for booze.”

“My God, what a country,” she said, and taking Christina by the hand, started down the street towards the airstrip.

I spent the afternoon helping Mannie do an engine check on the Bristol Hannah arrived back just after six and was in excellent spirits. I lay in my hammock and watched him shave while Mannie prepared the evening meal.

Hannah was humming gaily to himself and looked years younger. When Mannie asked him if he wanted anything to eat he shook hishead and pulled on a clean shirt.

I said, “You’re wasting your time, Mannie. His appetite runs to other things tonight”

Hannah grinned. “Why don’t you give in, kid? I mean that’s a real woman. She’s been there and back and that kind need a man.”

He turned his back and went off whistling as I swung my legs to the floor. Mannie grabbed me by the arm. “Let it gosNeil.”

I stood up, walked to the edge of the hangar and leaned against a post looking out over the river, taking time to calm down. Funny how easily I got worked up over Hannah these days.

Mannie appeared and pushed a cigarette at me. “You know, Neil, women are funny creatures. Not at all as we imagine them. The biggest mistake we make is to see them as we think they should be. Sometimes the reality is quite different…”

“All right, Mannie, point taken.” Great heavy spots of rain darkened the dry earth and I took down an oilskin coat and pulled it on. “I’ll go and check on Sister Maria Teresa. I’ll see you later.”

I’d taken up her bag of tricks, an oilskin coat and a pressure lamp, earlier in case the vigil proved to be a prolonged one. Just as I reached the outer edge of Landro, I met her on the way in with the mother walking beside her carrying her newly-born infant in a blanket, the father following behind.

“A little girl,” Sister Maria Teresa announced, “but they don’t seem to mind. I’m going to stay the night with them. Will you let Joanna know for me?”

I accompanied them through the gathering darkness to the shack the couple called home, then I went back along the street to the hotel.

The rain was really coming down now in great solid waves and I sat at the bar with Figueiredo for a while, playing draughts and drinking’ some of that gin I’d brought in for him, wailing for it to stop.

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