Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“Heady on the stove. Just needs heating.”

I turned up the flame. “What have you been doing?”

‘My job,’ he said calmly. “You’ve got a mail run this morn-ing, haven’t you?”

“That’s right,” I said deliberately.

He nodded towards the Bristol. “There she is. Ready and waiting for you.”

He turned away. I poured myself a mug of coffee and got ready to go. I had just finished packing my grip for the last time when Hannah arrived.

He looked terrible, the face badly bruised, the nose ob-viously out of alignment and the eyes were washed clean of all feeling. He wore his leather boots, breeches and an old khaki shirt, a white scarf looped around his neck. He carried the mail sack in his left hand.

He said calmly, “Are you still going through with this?”

“What do you think?”

“Okay,” he said, still calm. “Suit yourself.”

He walked across to the Bristol, climbed up and stowed the sack in the observer’s cockpit. I followed slowly, my grip in one hand,zipping up my jacket with the other.

Mannie stayed in the hangar, which didn’t make me feel too good, but if that was the way he wanted it, then to hell with him. Quite suddenly I had an overwhelming desire to get away from that place. I’d had Landro, I’d had Brazil.

I put my foot on the lower port wing and climbed into the cockpit. Hannah waited patiently while I fastened my helmet and went through my checks. He reached for the propeller, I began to wind the starting magneto and gave him the signal. And then he did a totally unexpected thing. He smiled or at least I think that’s what it was supposed to be and called, ‘Happy landings, kid.’ Then he pulled the propeller.

It almost worked. I fought against the impulse to cut the engine, turned into the wind before I could change my mind and took off. As I banked across the trees the government launch moved in to the jetty, Figueiredo standing in the stern. He waved his hat to me, I waved back, took a final look at Landro then turned south.

I had a good fast run and raised Manaus in an hour and forty minutes. There were a couple of cars parked by the tower as I came in. A rather imposing black Mercedes and an Olds-mobile. As I taxied towards the hangar, they started up and moved towards me. When I stopped, so did they.

A uniformed policeman slid from behind the wheel of a Mercedes and opened the rear door for thecomandante who waved cheerfully and called a good morning. Three more policemen got out of the Oldsmobile, all armed to the teeth.Hannah and that damned contract of ours. So this was why he had been so cheerful?

I slid to the ground and took the hand thecomandante so genially held out to me. “What’s this? I don’t usually rate a guard of honour.”

His eyes behind the dark glasses gave nothing away. “A small matter. I won’t keep you long, my friend. Tell me, Senhor Figueiredo has a safe at his place of business, you are aware of this?”

I knew at once that it was about as bad as it could be. I said, “Along with everyone else in Landro. It’s under the bar counter.”

“And the key? I understand Senhora Figueiredo can be re-grettably careless regarding its whereabouts.”

“Something else well known to everyone in Landro,” I said. “She hangs it behind the bar. Look – what is this?”

“I had a message from Senhor Figueiredo over the radio half an hour ago to say that when he opened his safe this morning to check the contents after his absence, he discovered a consignment of uncut diamonds was missing.”

I took a deep breath. “Now, look here,” I said. “Any one of fifty people could have taken them. Why pick on me?”

He nodded briefly, three of the policemen crowded in on me, the fourth climbed up into the observer’s cockpit and threw out the mail sack and my grip which thecomandante started to search. The man in the cockpit said something briefly in Por-tuguese that I couldn’t catch and handed down a small canvas bag.

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Categories: Higgins, Jack