I surfaced to the mosquito net billowing above me like a pale, white flower in the breeze from the open window and beyond, a face floated disembodied in the diffused yellow glow of an oil lamp. Old Juca blinked sad, moist eyes. “Captain Hannah was here earlier, senhor. He asked me to wake you at nine o’clock.”
It took its own time in getting through to me. “Nine o’clock?”
“He asks you to meet him, senhor, atThe Little Boat. He wishes you to dine with him. I have a cab waiting to take you there, senhor. Everything is arranged.”
“That’s nice of him,” I said, but any iron in my voice was obviously lost on him.
“Your bath is waiting, senhor. Hot water is provided.” He put the lamp down carefully on the table, the door dosed with a gentle sigh behind him, the mosquito net fluttered in the eddy like some great moth, then settled again.
Hannah certainly took a lot for granted. I got up, feeling vaguely irritated at the way things were being managed for me and padded across to the open window. Quite suddenly, my whole mood changed for it was pleasantly cool after the heat of the day, the breeze perfumed with flowers. Lights glowed down there on the river and music echoed faintly, the fredo from the sound of it, pulsating through the night, filling me with a vague, irrational excitement.
When I turned back to the room I made another discovery. My canvas grip had been unpacked and my old linen suit had been washed and pressed and hung neatly from the back of a chair waiting for me. There was really nothing I could do, the pressures were too great, so I gave in gracefully, found a towel and went along the corridor to have my bath.
Although the main rainy season was over, rainfall always tends to be heavy in the upper Amazon basin area and sudden, violent downpours are common, especially at night.
I left the hotel to just such a rush of rain and hurried down the steps to the cab which was waiting for me, escorted by Juca who insisted on holding an ancient black umbrella over my head. The driver had raised the leather hood which kept out most of the rain if not all and drove away at once.
The streets were deserted, washed clean of people by the rain and from the moment we left the hotel until we reached ouf destination, I don’t think we saw more than half a dozen people, particularly when we moved through the back streets towards the river.
We emerged on the waterfront at a place where there were a considerable number of houseboats of various kinds for a great many people actually lived on the river this way. We finally came to a halt at the end of a long pier.
“This way, senhor.”
The cabby insisted on placing his old oilskin coat about my shoulders and escorted me to the end of the pier where a lantern hung from a pole above a rack festooned with fishing nets.
An old riverboat was moored out there in the darkness, lights gleaming, laughter and music drifting across the water. He leaned down and lifted a large, wooden trapdoor and the light from the lamp flooded in to reveal a flight of wooden steps. He went down and I followed without hesitation. I had, after all, no reason to expect foul play and in any event, the Webley.38 which I’d had the forethought to slip into my right-hand coat pocket was as good an insurance as any.
A kind of boardwalk stretched out through the darkness towards the riverboat, constructed over a series of canoes and it dipped alarmingly as we moved across.
When we reached the other end the cabby smiled and slapped the hull with the flat of his palm. “The Little Boat,senhor. Good appetite in all things but in food and women most of all.”
It was a Brazilian saying and well intended. I reached for my wallet and he raised a hand. “It is not necessary, senhor. The good captain has seen to it all.”
Hannah again.I watched him negotiate the swaying catwalk successfully as far as the pier then turned and went up some iron steps which took me to the deck. A giant of a man moved from the shadows beside a lighted doorway, a Negro with a ring in one ear and a heavy, curly beard.