Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“All right,” the guard said. “Let’s have him up.”

I moved before anyone else and got a hand to the body and Munro, by a kind of telepathy, was with me. He took the razor from the clenched hand and I heaved Ramis over his shoulder.

There was blood everywhere. My hands were smeared with it and it splashed down on my head and face and I followed Munro up on deck.

The river was only thirty or forty yards wide and mangrove swamp stretched away on either side, mist curling up from the surface of the water in the cold morning air. Even then, at that fixed point in time, I was not certain of what I intended to do. Things happened, I think, because they happened and very much by chance.

A miserable village, half a dozen huts constructed on sticks above a mudbank, drifted by. There were a couple of fishing nets stretched out on poles to dry and three canoes drawn up out of the water.

It was enough. I glanced at Munro. He nodded. As the village disappeared into the curling mist, we moved past the guards with our bloody burden and went to the rail.

“Go on, over with him,” the sergeant in charge said. “Then get this deck cleaned up.”

He was standing by the hatch smoking. Another guard sat beside him, a carbine across his knees. They were the only two on view although there had to be others around. I took Ramis by the ankles, Munro took his arms. We swung him once, then twice. The third time we simply threw him at the sergeant and the guard on the hatch. I didn’t even wait to see what happened, but flung myself awkwardly over the rail.

I started to kick wildly the moment the water closed over my head, aware of the constriction of the chains, aware also of the danger from the paddle wheel at the stern. Kicking with my feet was easy enough and I simply clawed both hands for-ward in a frenzy, the turbulence all around me in the water as the boat slid past.

It would be some time before they could get it to stop, that would be one point in our favour, but they had already started firing. A bullet kicked water into the air a yard in front of me. I glanced over my shoulder, saw Munro some little way behind, the sergeant and three guards at the rail.

They all seemed to fire at once and Munro threw up his hands and disappeared. I took a deep breath and went under, clawing my way forward for all I was worth. When I surfaced I was into the first line of mangroves and in any case, the stern-wheeler had already faded into the mist.

I hung on to a root for a moment to get my breath, spitting out brackish, foul-tasting water. The general smell at that level was terrible and a snake glided by, reminding me unpleasantly of the hazards I was likely to meet if I stayed in the water too long. But anything was better than Machados.

I slid into the water again, struck out into the stream and allowed the current to take me along with it. I could already see the roofs of the huts above the trees for the mist at that point by close to the surface of the water.

I grounded in the mud below the pilings a few moments later and floundered out of the water, tripping over my leg chains at one point and falling on my face. When I struggled up I found an old man staring at me from the platform of one of the huts, a wretched creature who wore only a tattered cot-ton shirt.

When I got hold of the nearest canoe and shoved it towards the water, he gave vent to some sort of cry. I suppose I was taking an essential part of his livelihood or some other poor wretch’s. God knows what misery my action was leaving behind, but that was life. Somehow, in spite of the awkward-ness of the chains I managed to get into the frail craft, picked up a paddle and pushed out into the current.

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