I strapped myself in beside him and he closed the door. “A hundred and eighty this baby does at full stretch. You’ll be wallowing in a hot bath before you know it.” He grinned. “All right, tepid, if I know my Manaus plumbing.”
Suddenly I was very tired. It was marvellous just to sit there, strapped comfortably into my seat and let someone else do the work and as I’ve said, he was good. Really good. There wasn’t going to be more than a few feet in it as far as those trees were concerned at the far end of thecampo and yet I hadn’t a qualm as he turned the Hayley into the wind and opened the throttle.
He kept her going straight into that green wall, refusing to sacrifice power for height, waiting until the last possible moment, pulling the stick back into his stomach and lifting us up over the tops of the trees with ten feet to spare.
He laughed out loud and slapped the bulkhead with one hand. “You know what’s the most important thing in life, Mallory? Luck – and I’ve got a bucket full of the stuff. I’m going to live to be a hundred and one.”
“Good luck to you,” I said.
Strange, but he was like a man with drink taken. Not drunk, but unable to stop talking. For the life of me, I can’t remem-ber what he said, for gradually my eyes closed and his voice dwindled until it was one with the engine itself and then, that too faded and there was only the quiet darkness.
Maria of the Angels
I had hoped to be on my way in a matter of hours, certainly no later than the following day for in spite of the fact that Manaus was passing through hard times, there was usually a boat of some description or another leaving for the coast most days.
Things started to go wrong from the beginning. To start with, there was the police in the person of thecomandante himself who insisted on giving me a personal examination regarding the crash, noting my every word in his own hand which took up a remarkable amount of time.
After signing my statement I had to wait outside his office while he got Hannah’s version of the affair. They seemed to be old and close friends from the laughter echoing faintly through the closed door and when they finally emerged, Hannah had an arm round thecomandante’s shoulder.
“Ah, Senhor Mallory.” Thecomandante nodded graciously. “I have spoken to Captain Hannah on this matter and am happy to say that he confirms your story in every detail. You are free, to go.”
Which was nice of him.He went back into his office and Hannah said, “That’s all right, then.” He frowned as if con-cerned and put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve got things to do, but you look like the dead walking. Grab a cab downstairs and get the driver to take you to the Palace Hotel. Ask for Senhor Juca. Tell him I sent you. Five or six hours’ sleep and you’ll be fine. I’ll catch up with you this evening. We’ll have some-thing to eat. Hit the high spots together.”
“In Manaus?” I said.
They still have their fair share of sin if you know where to look.’ He grinned crookedly. ‘I’ll see you later.’
He returned to thecomandante’s office, opening the door without knocking and I went downstairs and out through the cracked marble pillars at the entrance.
I didn’t go to the hotel straight away. Instead, I took one of the horse-drawn cabs that waited at the bottom of the steps and gave the driver the address of the local agent of the mining company for whom I’d contracted to deliver the Vega to Belem.
In its day during the great rubber boom at the end of the nineteeth century, Manaus had been the original hell-hole, millionaires walking the streets ten-a-penny, baroque palaces, an opera house to rival Paris itself. No sin too great, no wicked-ness too evil. Sodom and Gomorrah rolled into one and set down on the banks of the Negro, a thousand miles up the Amazon.