Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“Very funny, senhor,” Figueiredo said, gently disengaging himself.

Hannah slid along the bar, laughing helplessly, glasses cas-cading to the floor. When he reached the other end he simply fell on his face and lay still.

Figueiredo went round the end of the bar. He sighed heavily. “A bad business this.” He turned and held out his hand to me. “No one regrets what you have been through more than myself, Senhor Mallory, but by some miracle you are alive and that is all that matters. Naturally, I will make a full report to Manaus as soon as possible. I think you win find the authorities more than anxious to make amends.”

It didn’t seem to matter much any more. I dropped to one knee beside Hannah and felt his pulse which was still function-ing.

“How is he?” Mannie demanded.

“Not good. He could probably do with a stomach wash. If it was me, I’d give him something to make him vomit then I’d lock him in the steam house and leave him there till he sobered up.”

“Which was exactly what we were trying to do when he attacked us,” Figueiredo said. “You have come at an opportune moment, my friend.”

“How’s that?”

He went behind the bar, found a bottle of his best whisky,White Horse, no less and poured me one. “The day after your unfortunate arrest, Sister Maria Teresa came to see me with as hair-brained a scheme as I have ever known. It seems this Huna girl, Christina, who Senhorita Martin purchased from Avila, had persuaded the good Sister that if she was returned to her people she could obtain news of Senhorita Martin’s sister and her friend, perhaps even arrange for their return.”

For a moment, I seemed to see again the Huna girl standing on the veranda of the house looking across at me, the flat, empty face, dark animal eyes giving nothing away.

“Good God, you surely didn’t let her fall for that?”

“What could I do, senhor?” He spread his hands. “I tried to argue with her, but I had no authority to prevent her leaving and she persuaded Avila and four of his men to go with her. For a consideration, naturally.”

“You mean they’ve actually gone to Santa Helena?” I said in astonishment.

“In the mission launch.”

I turned to Mannie. “And Joanna?”

He nodded. “She and Sam had one hell of a row that day. I don’t know what it was all about, but I can guess. She told him she was going with Sister Maria Teresa. That she never wanted to see him again.”

Poor Sam. So in the end, he had lost all along the line?

“You’ve been in touch with them?” I said. “They have a radio?”

“Oh, yes, I insisted they took the one the military left in my care. It seems the girl went into the jungle the day they arrived and has not returned.”

“And that doesn’t surprise me.”

“You think the whole thing could be some sort of trap to get them up there?” Mannie asked.

“On her part, perhaps, to put herself right with her people if she wants to return to them permanently. They’d catch on to the idea fast enough.’ I turned back to Figueiredo. ‘What’s the latest development?”

“Huna have been seen near the mission for two days now. Some of Avila’s men panicked and insisted on leaving. It seems Sister Maria Teresa stood firm.”

“So they cleared out, anyway?”

“Exactly. Avila was on the radio just before noon. Reception was bad and he soon faded, but he managed to tell me that three of his men had cleared out at dawn in the mission launch, leaving the rest of them stranded.”

“Anything else?”

“He said the drums had started.”

“Which was why you were trying to sober up our friend?” I stirred Hannah with my foot. “Have you been in touch with Alberto?”

“He’s on leave, but I spoke to a young lieutenant at Forte Franco an hour ago who said he’d contact Army Headquarters for instructions. In any case, what can they hope to do? This is something to be handled now or not at all. Tomorrow is too late.”

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