But I had to face Hannah with this thing – had to make him admit his treachery, no matter what the consequences. I flicked my cigar out into the rain, hitched my blanket over my shoulder and went to sleep.
We reached the mouth of the Mortes about four in the morning. Bartolomeo took the raft into the left bank and I helped him tie her securely to a couple of trees. Afterwards, he put a canoe in the water and departed down-river.
I breakfasted with Nula and the children then paced the raft restlessly, waiting for something to happen. I was too close, that was the thing, itching to be on my way and have it all over and done with.
Bartolomeo returned at seven, hailing us from the deck of an old steam barge, the canoe trailing behind on a line. The barge came alongside and Bartolomeo crossed over. The man who leaned from the deckhouse was thin and ill-looking with the haggard, bad-tempered face of one constantly in pain. His skin was as yellow as only jaundice can make it.
“All right, Bartolomeo,” he called. “If we’re going, let’s go. I’m in a hurry. I’ve got cargo waiting up-river.”
“My second cousin,” Bartolomeo said. “Inside, he has a heart of purest gold.”
“Hurry it up, you bastard,” his cousin shouted.
“If you want to speak to him, call him Silvio. He won’t ask you questions if you don’t ask him any and he’ll put you down at Landro. He owes me a favour.”
We shook hands. “My thanks,” I said.
“God be with you, my friend.”
I stepped over the rail to the steam barge and the two Indian deckhands cast off. As we pulled away, I moved to the stern and looked back towards the raft. Bartolomeo stood watching, an arm about his wife, the two children at his side.
He leaned down and spoke to them and they both started to wave vigorously. I waved back, feeling unaccountably cheered and then we moved into the mouth of the Mortes and they dis-appeared from view.
Up the River of Death
At two o’clock that afternoon the steam barge dropped me at Landro, pausing at the jetty only for as long as it took me to step over the rail. I waved as it moved away and got no reply which didn’t particularly surprise me. During the entire trip, Silvio had not spoken to me once and the Indian deckhands had kept away from me. Whatever he was up to was no busi-ness of mine, but it was certainly illegal, I was sure of that
A couple of locals were down on the beach beneath the jetty beside their canoes mending nets. They looked casually up as I walked by, then carried on with their task.
There was something missing – something which didn’t fit. I paused on the riverbank, frowning over it, then realised what it was. The mission launch was no longer tied up at the jetty. So they’d finally decided to get out? In a way, that sur-prised me.
An even bigger surprise waited when I crossed the airstrip. The Hayley stood in the open ready for off as I would have expected, but when I reached the hangar, I saw to my amaze-ment that the Bristol stood inside. Now how could that be?
There was no one about. Even the military radio section had been cleared. In fact, there was something of an air of desola-tion to the place. I helped myself to a whisky from the bottle on the table then climbed up to the observer’s cockpit of the Bristol and found the 10-gauge still in its special compartment and a couple of boxes of steel buckshot.
I loaded up as I crossed the airstrip. All very dramatic, I suppose, but the chips were down now with a vengeance and I was going to have the truth out of him for the whole world to see, nothing was more certain.
I tried the house first, approaching cautiously from the rear and entering by the back door. I needn’t have bothered. There was no one there. There was another mystery here also. My old room had been cleared of any sign that Joanna Martin had ever inhabited it, but Mannie had very obviously not moved back in for neither of the two beds was made up.