“In the Bristol?”
“That’s it, kid, just like old times.”
There was something different in his voice, something I’d never heard before. A kind of joy, if you like, although I know that sounds absurd.
“I’m going to try and land on that big sandbank in the middle of the river. The one directly in front of the jetty, but I’m going to need some light on the situation.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Hell, I don’t know. What about setting fire to the bloody place?”
I glanced at Avila. He nodded. I said, “Okay, Sam, we’re on our way.”
His voice crackled back sharply, “Just one thing, kid. I can squeeze two in the observer’s cockpit – no more. That means you and Avila lose out.”
“I came floating down-river once,” I said. “I can do it again.”
But there was no hope of that. I knew it and so did Joanna Martin. She put a hand on my sleeve and I straightened. “Neil, there must be a way. There’s got to be.”
It was Avila who answered for me. “If we don’t go out now, senhor, there is no point in going at all.”
There was a can of paraffin for the lantern in the vestry. I spilled some on the floor and ran a trail out to the front door. Avila slung his carbine over hisshoulder, turned down the storm lantern and held it under his jacket. I opened the door and he slipped out into the darkness, making for the bungalows.
I gave him a moment, then went out myself, the can of paraffin in one hand, the Thompson in the other, my target, the hospital and administrative building.
Somewhere quite close at hand as if from nowhere, there was the drone of the Bristol’s engine. Time was running out. Of the Huna there was no sign. It was as if they had never existed. The door into the hospital was open. I unscrewed the cap of the can, splashed paraffin inside, then moved back out and flung the rest up over the roof.
On the other side of the compound, flames flowered in the night as one of the bungalows started to burn. I saw Avila quite clearly running to the next one, a burning brand in one hand, reaching up to touch the thatch.
I struck a match, dropped it into the entrance and jumped back hurriedly as a line of flames raced across the floor. With a sudden whoof and a kind of minor explosion, it broke through to the roof.
And then all hell broke loose. Those shrill Huna voices buzzed angrily over there in the forest like bees disturbed in the hive. They burst out in a ragged line, Iloosed off a long burst, turned and ran towards the church as the arrows started to hum.
Avila was on a converging course. I heard him cry out, was aware, out of the corner of my eye, that he had stumbled. He kept on running for a while, then pitched on his face a few feet away from the church steps, an arrow in his back under the left shoulder blade.
I turned, dropping to one knee and emptied the magazine in a wide arc across the compound and yet there was nothing to see. Only die voices crying shrilly beyond the flames, the occasional arrow curving through the smoke.
Avila was hauling himself painfully up the steps, Joanna already had the door open. I took him by the collar and dragged him inside, kicking the door shut behind me. I rammed home the bolt and when I turned, Sister Maria Teresa was on her knees beside him, trying to examine the wound. He turned over, snapping the shaft. There was blood on his mouth. He pushed her away violently and reached a hand out to me.
I dropped to one knee beside him. He said, “Maybe you cats still make it, senhor. Torch the church and run for it. God won’t mind.” His other hand groped in his jacket pocket, came out clutching a small linen bag. “Have a drink on me,my friend. Good luck.”
And then he brought up more blood than I would have thought possible and lay still.