The cries were all around us again now. I fired sideways, still running and was aware of another sound, the steady rattle of a Lewis gun. A moment later we broke out on to the river-bank in time to see the launch moving in fast, Hannah himself working the gun in the prow.
I think it was about then that the arrows started to come, swishing through the trees one after the other, never in great numbers. One buried itself in the ground in front of me, an-other took Pedro full in the back, driving him forward. He spun round, took another in the chest and fell on his back.
I kept on running, ducking and weaving, for this was no place for heroes now, aware of the shooting from the launch, the hands helping Sister Maria Teresa over the rail. As Alberto followed her, an arrow pierced his left forearm. The force must have been considerable for he stumbled, dropping his Mauser into the river and I grabbed his other arm and shoved him over the rail. As I followed, I heard Hannah cry out, the engine note deepened and we started to pull away from the jetty.
Alberto staggered to his feet and in the same moment, one of his men cried out and pointed. I turned to see Pedro on his hands and knees like a dog back there on the landing stage, the stump of an arrow shaft protruding from his back. Behind him, the Huna broke from the forest howling like wolves.
Alberto snapped the shaft of the arrow in his arm with a con-vulsive movement, pulled it out and grabbed a rifle from the nearest man. Then he took careful aim and shot Pedro in the head.
The launch turned downstream. Alberto threw the rifle on the deck and grabbed Sister Maria Teresa by the front of her habit, shaking her in helpless rage. “Who killed him, Siste, you or me? Tell me that? Something else for you to pray about.”
She gazed up at him mutely, a kind of horror on her face. Perhaps for the first time in her saintly life she was realising that evil as the result of good intentions is just as undesirable, but I doubt it in view of subsequent events.
As for Alberto, it was as if something went out of him. He pushed her away and said in the tiredest voice I’ve ever heard, “Get away from me and stay away.”
He turned and lurched along the deck.
Just One of those Things
I came awake slowly, not at all certain that I was still alive and found myself in my hammock in the hangar at Landro. The kettle was boiling away on the spirit stove. Mannie was sitting beside it reading a book.
“Is it any good?” I asked him.
He turned, peering over the top of cheap spectacles at me, then closed the book, stood up and came forward, genuine con-cern in his eyes.
“Heh, what were you trying to do? Frighten me?”
“You went out like a light, that’s what happened, just after getting out of the plane. We carted you in here and Sister Maria Teresa had a look at you.”
“What did she have to say?”
“Some kind of reaction to too much stress was all she could come up with. You crowded a lot of living into a small space in time today, boy.”
“You can say that again.”
He poured whisky into a glass – good whisky. “Hannah?” I said.
“He’s been in and out of here at least a dozen times. You’ve been lying there for nearly six hours. Oh, and Joanna, she was here too. Just left.”
I got out of the hammock and moved to the edge of the hangar and stared out into the night. It had stopped raining, but the air was fresh and cool, perfumed with flowers.
Piece by piece I put it all together again. Alberto’s burning anger back there on the launch. He had even refused medical assistance from her – had preferred, he said, the comparatively clean hands of hismedical orderly.
He had taken us straight back to the landing strip and had instructed Hannah to fly us back at once. And that just about filled in the blank pages although I couldn’t for the life of me actually remember fainting.