Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“Your statement.” He held it up. “Is there anything you wish to change?”

“Not a word.”

“Then you will please sign it. Please read it through first.”

I found it a fair and accurate account of what I had said, something to be surprised at, and signed it

He put it on one side, lit a cigarillo and sat back. “Right, Senhor Mallory, facts only from now on. You have made certain accusations against my good friend Captain Hannah who, I may say, flew down especially at my request to make a statement.”

“In which he naturally denies everything.”

“I do not have to take his word for anything. The woman, Lola Coimbra -1 have interviewed her personally. She rejects your story completely.”

I was sorry about that, in spite of my position – sorry for Lola more than for myself.

“And this woman Maria,” he went on. “The one you say assaulted you. Would it surprise you to know she is not known at the address you give?”

By then, of course, I had got past being surprised at any-thing, but still struggled to keep afloat. “Then where did I get the wallet and passport from?”

“Who knows, senhor? Perhaps you’ve never been parted from them. Perhaps the whole affair was an elaborate plot on your part to gain Captain Hannah’s sympathy so that he would offer you employment.”

Which took the wind right out of my sails. I straggled for words and said angrily, “None of this would stand up in a court of law for five minutes.”

“Which is for the court to decide. Leaving all other considera-tions on one side, there is no question in my mind that you have a clear case to answer on the charge of being in unlawful possession of uncut diamonds to the value of… ” Here, he checked a document before him. “Yes, sixty thousandcruzeiros ”

Round about nine thousand pounds.I swallowed hard. “All right. I want to be put in touch with the British Consul in Belem and I’ll need a lawyer.”

“There will be plenty of time for that.”

He reached for an official-looking document with a seal at the bottom and signed it. I said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The courts are under great pressure, my friend. This is a wild region. There are many wrong-doers. The scum of Brazil run here to hide. It may be at least six months before your case is heard.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

He carried on as if I had not spoken. “For the present, you will be committed to the labour camp at Machados until your case comes to trial. As it happens a new batch of prisoners go up-river in the morning.”

He dismissed me, nodding at the guards to take me away, the last straw as far as I was concerned. “Listen to me, damn you!” I reached across the desk, grabbing him by the front of the tunic.

It was about the worst thing I could have done. One of the guards jabbed the end of his club into my kidneys and I went down like a stone. Then they grabbed an arm each and took me down the two flights of stairs to the basement between them}feet dragging.

I was vaguely aware of the door of the cell being opened, of being thrown inside. I passed out for a while then and surfaced to find my Negro friend squatting beside me.

He held a lighted cigarette to my lips, his face expressionless. “The misunderstanding – it still exists?”

“I think you could say that,” I told him weakly. “They’re send-ing me to Machados in the morning.”

He took it very philosophically. “Have courage, my friend. Sometimes God looks down through the clouds.”

“Not today,” I said.

I think the night which followed was the lowest point of my life, but the final humiliation was still to come. On the follow-ing morning, just before noon, the Negro, whose name turned out rather improbably to be Munro, a legacy from some Scot-tish plantation owner in the past, myself and about thirty other prisoners were taken out to the yard at the back to be fitted with leg and wrist irons for the trip up-river.

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