“Coffee!” Mannie called.
I finished my whisky and took the tin mug he offered. “Did Hannah tell you what happened up there?”
“As much as he could. Naturally there was little he could say about what took place at the actual confrontation.”
So I told him and when I was finished, he said, “A terrible experience.”
“I’ll probably dream about that walk back through the jungle for the rest of my life.”
“And this thing that took place between Sister Maria Teresa and the Colonel. A nasty business.”
“He had a point, though. If she’d done as she was told and stayed on board things might have gone differently.”
“But you can’t be certain of that?”
“But she is,” I said. “That’s the trouble. Certain that what-ever she does is because the good Lord has so ordained it. Certain that she’s right in everything she does.”
He sighed. “I must admit that few things are worse than a truly good person convinced they have the answer for all things.”
“A female Cromwell,” I said.
He was genuinely puzzled. “I don’t understand.”
“Read some English history, then you will. I think I’ll take a walk.”
He smiled slyly. “She will be alone, I think, except for that Hum girl she bought from Avila. The good Sister is awaiting delivery of another baby, I understand.”
“Doesn’t she ever give up? What about Hannah?”
“He said he would be at the hotel.”
I found my flying jacket and walked across the landing strip towards Landro. When I reached the house, I actually paused, one foot on the bottom step of the veranda, but thought better of it.
The town itself was quiet. There was a little music through an open window from a radio and somewhere a dog barked a time or two, but otherwise there was just the night and the stars and the feeling of being alive here and now.Here and now in this place.
When I went up the steps to the hotel and opened the door, the bar was empty except for Hannah who sat by an open shutter, feet on the table, a bottle of whisky in front of him and a glass.
“So the dead can walk after all,” he said. “Where is everybody?”
There had been a wedding, it seemed, a civil ceremony pre-sided over by Figueiredo as he was empowered to do in the absence of a priest. The land agent’s son, which meant there was money in it. Anyone who was anyone was at the party.
I went behind the counter and got a glass, then sat down and helped myself to whisky from his bottle. “You satisfied now?”he said. “After what you did back there? You feel like a man now?”
“You did a good job with the launch. Thanks.”
“No medals, kid – I’ve already got everything, but the Con-gressional. Heh, you know what the Congressional is, you Limey bastard?”
I think it was only then that I realised that he had obviously drunk a great deal. I said gravely, “Yes, I think so.”
And then he said a strange thing: “I used to know someone just like you, Mallory, back there in the old days at the Front. We were in a Pursuit Squadron together. Fresh kid from Har-vard. Old man a millionaire – all the money in the world. He couldn’t take it seriously. Know what I mean?”
“I think so.”
“Hell, is that all you can say.” He filled his glass again. “Know what he used to call me? The Black Baron on account of Von Richthofen was the Red Baron.”
“He must have thought a hell of a lot about you.”
He didn’t seem to hear me. He said, ‘I used to tell him, “Watch the sun. Never cross the line alone under ten thousand feet and always turn and run for home if you see a plane on its own because you can bet your sweet life it isn’t.”
And he didn’t listen?”
“Went after a Rumpler one morning and didn’t notice three F.W.s waiting upstairs in the sun. Never knew what hit him.” He shook his head. “Silly bastard.” He looked up at me. ‘But a good flyer and all the guts in the world, kid, just like you.”