“I agree. On the other hand, what the eye doesn’t see…”
“The same thought had occurred to me, I must confess. That oilskin coat of yours, for example, is certainly large enough to conceal a multitude of sins.”
He was suddenly considerably more cheerful at the prospects I suppose, of finding himself with a fighting chance again.
“I’ll see to the necessary preparations,’ he said. ‘We’ll go over things in detail closer to the time.”
He went along the deck to the wheelhouse leaving me alone with Hannah. His face was white, eyes glaring. For a moment I thought he might take a punch at me. He didn’t get the chance because Joanna chose that precise moment to appear from the saloon.
I could have sworn from her eyes that she had been crying, although that didn’t seem possible, but there was fresh powder on her face and the wide mouth had been smeared with vivid orange lipstick.
She spoke to Hannah without looking at him. “Would you kindly get to hell out of here, Sam? I’d like a private word with Galahad here.”
Hannah glanced first at her, then at me and went without argument, some indication of the measure of control she had over him by then, I suppose.
She moved in close enough to make her presence felt “Are you doing this for me?”
“Not really,” I said. “I just like having a good time.”
She slapped me across the face hard enough to turn my head sideways. “Damn you, Mallory,” she cried. “I don’t owe you a thing.”
She did the last thing I would have expected. Flung her arm about my neck and fastened that wide mouth of hers on mine. Her body moved convulsively and for a moment it was difficult to consider other things. And then she pulled free of me, turned and ran into the saloon.
None of it made a great deal of sense, but then human actions seldom do. I moved along the starboard rail to the prow and paused to light a cigarette beside the Lewis gun which was for the moment unmanned in its sandbagged emplace-ment.
There was a stack of 47-round drum magazines ready for action at the side of the trim, deadly-looking gun and I sat down on the sandbags to examine it.
“The first gun ever fired from an aeroplane”. Hannah appeared from the other side of the wheelhouse. “That was June 7,1912. Shows how long they’ve been around.”
“Still a lot around back home,” I said. “We used them in Wapitis.”
He nodded. “The Belgian Rattlesnake the Germans called it during the war. The best light aerial gun we had.”
There was silence. Rain hissed into the river, ran from the brim of my wide straw sombrero. I couldn’t think of a thing to say, didn’t even know what he wanted. And even then, he surprised me by saying exactly the opposite of what I had expected.
“Look, kid, let’s get it straight. She’s my kind of woman. You saw her first, but I was there last and that’s what counts, so hands off, understand?”
Which at least meant he expected me to survive the day’s events and unaccountably cheered, I smiled in his face. Poor Sam. For a moment I thought again he might hit me. Instead he turned wildly and rushed away.
The place was marked on the large-scale map for the area as Matamoros and we found it with no trouble at all. There was an old wooden jetty rotting into the river and a landing stage almost overgrown, but the track to the house, originally built wide enough to take a cart, was still plain.
We moved into the landing stage, a couple of men ready at each Lewis gun, another ten behind the canvas screen on the starboard side, rifles ready, my old comrade-in-arms Sergeant Lima in charge.
We bumped against the landing stage not twenty yards away from that green wall and a couple of men went over the rail and held her in on hand-lines, the engine gently ticking over, ready to take us out of trouble with a burst of power if necessary.
But nothing happened. A couple of alligators slid off a mud-bank, a group of howler monkeys shouted angrily from the trees. The rest was silence.