Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

“What were they?”

“He said that Captain Hannah was on his way.”

“But that’s impossible,” I said. “You must have got it wrong.”

Outside, the drum stopped beating.

The church was a place of shadows now. There was a lantern by the radio and the candles at the other end which Sister Maria Teresa had lit.

It was completely dark outside, just the faint line of the trees discernible against the night sky. There wasn’t a sound out there. It was all quite still.

A jaguar coughed somewhere in the distance. Avila said, “Was that for real, senhor?”

“I don’t know. It could be some sort of signal.”

As long as we could keep them out we stood a chance. We were both well armed. There was a rifle for Joanna Martin and a couple of spares, laid out on a table next to the radio to hand for any emergency. But nothing stirred in all that silent world. The only sound was the faint crackle of the radio which Avila had left on with the speaker turned up to full power.

The light up at the altar was very dim now. The Holy Mother seemed to float out of the darkness bathed in a soft white light and Sister Maria Teresa’s voice in prayer was a quiet murmur. It was all very peaceful.

Something rattled on the roof above my head. As I glanced up a Huna swung in through one of the upper windows, poised on the sill, the light glistening on his ochre-painted body, then jumped with a cry like a soul in torment, amachete ready in his right hand.

I gave him a full burst from the Thompson, driving him back against the wall. Joanna screamed, I was aware of Avila cursing savagely as he worked the lever of his old carbine, pumping bullet after bullet into another Huna who had dropped in on his side.

I moved to help him, Joanna screamed again and I turned, too late, to meet the new threat. The Thompson gun was knocked from my hand, I went down in a tangle of flying limbs, aware of the stink of that ochre-painted body, slippery with sweat, themachete raised to strike.

I got a hand to his wrist and planted an elbow solidly in the gaping mouth. God, but he was strong, muscles like iron as with most forest Indians. Stronger than I was. Suddenly his face was very close, the pressure too much for me. The end of things and the muzzle of a rifle jabbed against the side of his head, the top of his skull disintegrated, his body jumped to one side.

Joanna Martin backed away clutching her rifle, horror on her face. Beyond her, Sister Maria Teresa turned and a black wraith dropped from the shadows above her, landing in front of the altar. I grabbed for the Thompson, already too late and Avila shot him through the head.

He was gasping for breath, the sound of it hoarse in the silence as he feverishly reloaded his carbine. “Maybe some more on the roof, eh, senhor?”

“I hope not,” I said. “We can’t take much of this. Cover me and I’ll take a look.”

I rammed a fresh clip into the Thompson, opened the door and slipped outside. I ran some little distance away, turned and raked the roof with a long burst, ran to the other side and re-peated the performance. There was no response – not even from the forest and I went back inside.

Sister Maria Teresa was on her knees again, prayers for the dead from what I could make out. Joanna had slumped down against the wall. I dropped to one knee beside her.

“You were pretty good in there. Thanks.”

She smiled wanly. “I’d rather do it on Stage?at M.G.M. any day.”

There was a sudden crackling over the loudspeaker, a familiar voice sounded harsh and clear. “This is Hannah calling Malloryl This is Hannah calling Mallory! Are you receiving me?”

I was at the mike in an instant and switched over. “I hear you, Sam, loud and clear. Where are you?”

“About five minutes away down-river if my night naviga-tion’s anything like as brilliant as it used to be.”

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