Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 8

The old estate echoed with the loud whoops and yells of the guards as they swarmed in, still high on adrenaline and reveling in the excitement. Larkin had been startled awake by the lieutenant’s muffled shout resonating in the house, and was somehow able to process it in her half-conscious state.

His words were all that she needed to hear. She stumbled to her feet as quickly as she could, pulled her bag off of the dusty dresser and cursed under her breath at the sight of the dark night sky through the grimy bedroom window. She had slept far too long; how could she have been so stupid?? The heavy tramp of many men could be heard on the lower stairs, and her hands shook with fear as she fought with the stubborn window to make her escape, giving it one last desperate shove. It gave in and opened with a loud snap, and as she leapt through the window, she heard the unmistakable sound of screeching and wings flapping behind her. Gulping, she looked up to see a horde of disgruntled bats coming at her, and hurtled through the opening.

She wasn’t certain which had made her heart hammer more, the soldiers or the bats. But either way it was the burst of frantic energy that she needed to force her tired muscles to get coordinated and help her get away in time. Peering over the balcony’s edge near the front of the house, she found no men outside on the grounds. They must all be inside, searching every room. It didn’t make sense for them to not be thorough enough to leave someone to patrol the outdoor areas, which were full of places for a young petite girl to hide in. They must have thought that she would try to stay hidden in the house, or that they’d be able to overtake her before she could get away. Whatever the case, their oversights continued to work to her advantage. She hurried back around to the south side of the house, the one bordered by the encroaching forest, and took a deep breath as she climbed over the old iron fencing on the edge of the balcony, praying that she wouldn’t fall. Hanging precariously from the ledge of the second story, she dropped to the ground below with a heavy thud and quickly crawled in to the brush, disappearing in to the woods without a second glance.

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Upstairs in the master bedroom of the old governor’s house, the agents were trying to determine how to react. Short of the guards and townspeople storming the house with torches and pitchforks and carrying them out to be hung for trespassing, this was the worst that could happen to jeopardize their mission, and they weren’t exactly prepared for it.

Smith’s proposal was that Aberland could go downstairs and act as though he’d been investigating the place already. He would be really glad that they’d followed his lead, then have a compelling reason to re-direct them away from the house. Or, the agents could pack up quickly, shove a few things under the bed, and take cover on the balcony. That course of action was risky too, since they’d left a pretty clear trail to lead the intruders right upstairs; they’d been pretty sloppy about not disturbing the dust. They were still trying to come to a consensus when they heard the lieutenant yell downstairs.

“That bastard Blane Aberland’s been reporting back to the United States government, can you believe it? I’m goin’ to wring that double-crosser’s neck when I get my hands on him. An’ that’s not even half of what Tholen has in mind, he told me himself!”

They all froze. Smith and Martin looked at their commanding officer, speechless. Aberland’s mind was racing. Tholen must have grown tired of cooperating with the US, and chosen to sever ties by getting rid of his inconvenient employee. The governor must have switched the target of the manhunt to him, ingeniously capitalizing upon the frenzy that his men were already in. Or he’d simply added Aberland to the hit list. Either way, it was a bad turn of events for the newly notorious double agent.

Without a word, Martin narrowed his eyes and looked at Smith, who nodded. He got the message alright. This guy was a traitor anyway, so it was better to feed him to the wolves and escape than risk dying on this worthless rock at the hands of the natives.

It only took a second for Martin to grab Aberland by the throat and pin his arms above his head in a full nelson, sending sharp shooting pain all the way in to his shoulders. The double agent in turn was disgusted with himself; his reactions had become so slow and dulled. The instant that it became clear that the Lieutenant was on the hunt for him instead of Larkin, he should’ve expected or at least prepared for them to turn on him. But it had taken Aberland by surprise anyway. He always thought that neither of them had the brain or the brawn, but mainly the guts to handle close encounters when it came right down to it.

Smith relieved Aberland of the handgun holstered in his utility belt, then shoved a seemingly unnecessary power cord in Martin’s back pocket. This all took place mid-stride for Martin as he forced Aberland to march out on to the bedroom’s private balcony. Meanwhile his compatriot had set about packing up their most vital equipment as quickly as possible. They only needed a way to call in to mainland control and get off the island now that the operation had been compromised.

Aberland was forcibly escorted to the edge of the master balcony, and for a second he thought that he was going to be launched to the ground below. He’d crumple with a broken bone or two on the entry steps in the shadow of the faded regal crown, where he would’ve been captured immediately. That’s what he would’ve done if their roles were reversed anyway. Instead Martin made quick work of tying his superior officer’s hands, and was about to tie his feet as well when they both heard men noisily coming down the hall back inside the house.

There was no time left. Martin punched Aberland hard in the stomach to disable him and shoved him down to hit the balcony floor with a smack, and ran back inside to escape with Smith and their equipment.

Aberland was lying on his side, trying to see through the stars popping in and out of his field of vision. Idiots #1 and 2 had been in a rush and less than thorough, which had given him one distinct advantage – they hadn’t searched him for any other weapons. As required in his position on the governor’s task force, he carried a knife, and then kept another handgun concealed on his person at all times. Just in case. After all, working for Tholen may have been a joke of an assignment, but he still had to watch his back.

Obviously he needed to work on that in the future, he noted. The knuckleheads had gotten one over on him; he hadn’t thought they were capable or ballsy enough to scheme behind his back – a stupid mistake on his part. Clearly he’d become a little too lazy after all. He didn’t let these reflections slow him down however. Aberland managed to twist his hands and wrists around a little to pull the utility knife off of his belt, and was now sawing through the cord as quickly as possible.

He could feel the rubber starting to separate, and knew that he was almost at the point that he could force it apart. Maybe he could still explain his way out of this, come up with an excuse for going maverick, even convince the Lieutenant that he was after the other two agents and that they were the true traitors. The cord was almost there, but it was going to be too late. Blane looked up at the sound of voices in the inside the bedroom, coming closer to the glass doors of the large balcony with each second. Time for a new game plan.

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