I was damned if I could remember the title, another proof of how tired I was. My name sounded clear through the rain as I reached the bottom of the hotel steps. I turned and found Mannie hurrying up the street.
“Wait for me, Neil,” he called, but I ignored him, went up the steps to the veranda, nodded to Avila and a couple of men who were lounging there and went inside.
Joanna Martin and Sister Maria Teresa sat at a table by the window drinking coffee. Figueiredo’s wife stood behind the bar. Hannah sat on a stool at the far end, head back, singing for all he was worth.
So stand by your glasses steady,
This world is a world of lies:
A cup to the dead already
Hurrah for the next man who dies.
He had, as the Irish say, drink taken, but he was far from drunk and his voice was surprisingly good. As the last notes died away the two women applauded, Sister Maria Teresa beaming enthusiastically, although the look on Joanna’s face was more one of indulgence than anything else – and then she saw me and the eyes widened.
The door was flung open behind me as Mannie arrived. He was short of breath, his face grey, and clutched a shotgun to his chest.
Hannah said, “Well, damn me, you look like something the cat brought in. What happened?”
Mannie grabbed my arm. “No trouble, Neil.”
I pulled free, went along the bar slowly. Hannah’s smile didn’t exactly fade away, it simply froze into place, fixed like a death mask. When I was close I took out the wallet and pass-port and threw them on the bar.
“I ran into an old friend of yours last night, Sam.”
He picked up the wallet, considered it for a moment. “If this is yours I’m certainly glad you’ve got it back, but I can’t say I know what in the hell you’re talking about.”
“Just tell me one thing,” I said. “The bonus. For five thou-sand read twenty, am I right?”
Joanna Martin moved into view. “What is all this?”
I stiff-armed her out of the way and he didn’t like that, anger sparking in those blue eyes, the smile slipping. The solution, when it came, was so beautifully simple. I picked up the passport and wallet and stowed them away.
“I’ll do the Manaus mail run in the morning as usual,” I said. “You can manage without me after that. I’ll leave the Bristol there.”
I started to turn away. He grabbed me by the arm and jerked me round to face him again. “Oh, no you don’t. We’ve got a contract.”
“I know; signed, sealed, delivered. You can wipe your back-side on it as far as I’m concerned.”
I think it was only then that he realised just how much trouble he was in. He said hoarsely, “But I’ve got to keep two planes in the air, kid, you know that. If I don’t, those bastards in Belem invoke the penalty clause. I’ll lose that bonus. Everything. I’m in hock up to my ears. They could even take the Hayley.”
“Marvellous,” I said. “I hope that means they keep you here for ever. I hope you never get out of this stinking hole.”
He bit me then, a good, solid punch that caught me high on the cheek, sending me back against the bar, glasses crashing to the floor.
I have never been much of a fighting man. The idea of get-ting into the ring to have your face reduced to pulp by a more skilful boxer than yourself just to show you’re a man has al-ways struck me as a poor kind of sport, but the life I had been living for the past two years had taught me a thing or two.
I lashed out with my left foot, catching him under the knee. He cried out and doubled over so I gave him my knee in the face for good measure.
He went back over a cane table with a crash. Both women cried out, there was a considerable amount of confused shout-ing which meant nothing to me for I had blood in my eye now with a vengeance.