Jack Higgins – The Last Place God Made

We had fish soup, followed by a kind of casserole of chicken stewed in its own blood, which tasted a lot better than it sounds. This was backed up by eggs and olives fried, as usual, in olive oil. And there was a mountain of rice and tomatoes in vinegar.

Hannah never stopped talking and yet ate and drank enor-mously with little visible effect except to make him talk more loudly and more rapidly than ever.

“It was a hard school out there, believe me. You had to be good to survive and the longer you lasted, the better your chances.”

“That makes sense, I suppose,” I said.

“It sure does. You don’t need luck up there, kid. You need to know what you’re doing. Flying’s about the most unnatural thing a man can do.”

When the waiter came to clear the table, I thanked him. Hannah said, “That’s pretty good Portuguese you speak. Better than mine.”

“I spent a year on the lower Amazon when I first came to South America,” I told him. “Flying out of Belem for a mining company that had diamond concessions along the Xingu River.”

He seemed impressed. “I hear that’s rough country. Some of the worst Indians in Brazil.”

‘Which was why I switched to Peru. Mountain flying may be tricker, but it’s a lot more fun than what you’re doing.’

He said, “You were pretty good out there today. I’ve been flying for.better than twenty years and I can’t think of more than half a dozen guys I’ve known who could have landed that Vega. Where did you learn to fly like that?”

“I had an uncle who was in the R.F.C.,” I said. “Died a couple of years back. He used to take me up in a Puss Moth when I was a kid. When I went to University, I joined the Air Squad-ron which led to a Pilot Officer’s commission in the Auxiliary Air Force. That got me plenty of weekend flying.”

“Then what?”

“Qualified for a commercial pilot’s licence in my spare time, then found pilots were ten-a-penny.”

“Except in South America.”

“Exactly.’ I was more than a little tight by then and yet the words seemed to spill out with no difficulty. ‘All I ever wanted to do was fly. Know what I mean? I was willing to go any-where.”

“You certainly were if you drew the Xingu. What are you going to do now? If you’re stuck for a job I might be able to help.”

“Flying, you mean?”

He nodded. “I handle the mail and general freight route to Landro which is about two hundred miles up the Negro from here. I also cover the Rio das Mortes under government contract Lot of diamond prospecting going on up there these days.”

“The Rio das Mortes?” I said. “The River of Death? You must be joking. That’s worse than the Xingu any day. I’ve been there. I took some government men to a Mission Station called Santa Helena maybe two years ago. That would be before your time. You know the place?”

“I call there regularly.”

“You used a phrase today,” I said. “The Last Place God Made. Well, that’s the Rio das Mortes, Hannah. During the rainy season it never stops. At other times of the year it just rains allday. They’ve got flies up there that lay eggs in your eyeballs. Most parts of the Amazon would consider thepirhona bad enough because a shoal of them can reduce a man to a skeleton in three minutes flat, but on the Mortes, they have a microscopic item with spines that crawls up your backside given half a chance and it takes a knife to get him out again.”

“You don’t need to tell me about the damn place,” he said. “I’ve been there. Came in with three Hayleys and high hopes a year ago. All I’ve got left is the baby you arrived in today. Believe me, when my government contract’s up in three months you won’t see me for dust.”

“What happened to the other two planes?”

“Kaput. Lousy pilots.”

“Then why do you need me?”

“Because it takes two planes to keep my schedules going or to put it more exactly, I can’t quite do it with one. I managed to pick up an old biplane the other day from a planter down-river who’s selling up.”

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