Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 13

Blane was busily preoccupied with the mental exercise of playing through different scenarios and ways to get Larkin Bellamy to trust him. His deliberations were interrupted when a little rippling splash of water resounded in the quiet wilderness, and he carefully peered out from behind the low, squat tree where he’d been hiding. She was starting to get out of the pool and contentedly climbed up to sit on a rock, her eyes closed as she dried her hair, and even what might be a faint smile playing upon her lips. She looked so peaceful in that moment that he hated to frighten her and make her anxious once again. But this was the best time to approach her, when she wouldn’t feel too cornered but couldn’t easily run away either. He took a deep breath. Complex and dangerous military operations he could do. Women were a different sort of complex and dangerous operation, and you never knew just what kind of crazy was coming your way next. Not without any misgiving, the agent noisily tromped out from his cover, trying to be as obvious as possible.

Larkin looked up at the sound, frozen like a deer in headlights facing down almost certain death. She looked absolutely terrified in spite of the measures that he’d taken and started scrambling across the pond (as fast as the water would allow) for her bag with the guns. Blane moved forward slowly and deliberately, keeping his hands up and in clear view.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he called in a kind voice.

She stopped midway across the pool, eyeing him suspiciously. “Thanks, but I won’t take my chances,” she said coldly, still moving for the pack.

He decided that it was better to let the bomb drop before she was fully armed. As her cold fingers were rummaging for one of the handguns, Aberland said, “Larkin, I know what your father was doing. I know you’ve got to find a way to leave the island. I want to help.”

She whirled, eyes full of hurt and shock at the mention of her father. That’s not what drew Blane’s attention though. It was that her shaking fingers were now clenching a .45 Cal handgun so lightly that her knuckles were turning white.

“What could you possibly know about me or my father? And how?” She demanded, her voice steely with anger. She glanced down at her unstable grip and tried to casually correct her hold on the pistol, as though she knew her way around a gun and meant business.

Blane began to walk forward slowly, lingering with each step before moving again, in a non-confrontational stance with his hands still in the air. He couldn’t tell from that distance whether or not the safety was on. The only thing more dangerous than a trained killer is a cocky idiot who’s never shot a gun before. All bravado, no common sense.

“How about we sit down and talk, and I’ll tell you everything I know. Then you can decide what to do with me.”

Larkin frowned, considering the proposal. Blane took that moment to make an assessment. She was definitely more gaunt than a few days ago, but she wasn’t starving yet. Her hair was a tangle, and her legs were still dirty despite her attempts to wash them. She had minor abrasions and cuts up and down her legs and arms, probably from fighting through the brush. Her feet had taken the most abuse; the strappy sandals sitting on a nearby rock were barely still holding together and had done nothing to protect her. Remnants of dried blood and bruises covered her toes. Poor kid. She looked like a wild animal.

She huffed in exasperation and stared daggers at him, obviously extremely unhappy with the situation.

“Fine,” Larkin said. “You come over here and sit against that boulder. You can say what you want. If you move even an inch, I’ll shoot you.”

“Ok that’s fair,” Blane said, and continued to walk slowly towards rocks nestled at the side of the little pool.

Larkin indicated the boulder that she intended for him with a careless gesture of her handgun, and Blane had to fight to keep from rolling his eyes. She had probably seen that in a movie. With his hands still held high, he calmly took a seat with his back against the designated boulder on the left bank of the pond. As he did, he took the opportunity to subtly scrutinize his surroundings and noted that the pond had plenty of rocks and stones of various sizes piled around it, butting up against a hill where he knew that the crumbling road wound around the other side. It was a pretty secluded spot, despite its proximity to the old path. She wouldn’t be able to get away from him very easily there, cornered in the clearing against the hill with a sharp incline that she’d have to climb up or run around to reach the road. Perfect.

Larkin had considered this too, though perhaps in a less calculated fashion. She and her pack sat perched a few feet away from him on a rock, in the direction that probably gave her the best chance of getting some distance if she needed to escape. She leveled the gun at him. He could see now that the safety wasn’t on. It was a miracle that the thing hadn’t misfired, bumping around in her bag as it undoubtedly had while she’d run all over the island. She eyed him with mistrust and poorly disguised fear, aware that he was coolly evaluating her.

“Okay, talk.”

Aberland hadn’t had much time to think through this part. Where to begin? ‘With the beginning,’ came his smartass thought in response.

“I guess I should tell you about myself, so you’ll understand why and how I know about you. My name is Blane Aberland. I was born in Long Beach, California in 2026. That was more or less when things really started to change in America, you know? Everyone got paranoid and started spying on each other around that time. Even though my dad was in the military, people thought my mom was mixed up with the Socialists for some reason, I don’t remember enough about her to guess why now that I’m older. But because of that we were always on the move.

“When I turned 18, I joined the Navy. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but I knew that having another family member in the service would probably take some heat off of her. I worked hard, became a Seal, and got shipped off to the heart of the conflict in South America. I got wounded in combat there, and one of the Socialistas found me …”

Here Blane trailed off with a faraway look in his eyes, his expression conveying some sort of twisted deep grief, the kind that isn’t so easily explained. He shook his head, returning to the story.

“Anyway, they thought I deserted. When I returned to the US, a military court decided to station me here on Tortola, along with two other agents to keep an eye on the British Virgin Islands. That jerk you met, Rex Tholen, is running drugs with the Mexicans. So when your dad applied to leave the country on business for his cigar company, we were notified immediately. The last time an American visited here was easily 15 years ago. And from your dad’s profile, we learned what the government had been suspicious about for a while.”

Blane knew that he was throwing a lot at her and paused for a moment, his face carefully composed with sadness and concern. He knew that it was essential for him to win her complete trust from the beginning.

He sighed and continued. “He was working with the Italian mafia out of Boston to sell pharmaceutical drugs.”

Larkin tried to process this. She had suspected it when she discovered all the crates in Tholen’s warehouse, but actual confirmation that it was the truth was different. In a rush, her mind flew back to all of the private cars, dinners, the huge influx of money that her father had tried to downplay … it made so much sense now. It couldn’t be anything else, but in spite of that, she could scarcely bring herself to truly believe it.

She felt an impetuous flare of fury at this assumptive Agent Blane Aberland for speaking the truth out loud, so finitely as though everyone should know it. He didn’t know them. Her dad had integrity; he prided himself on providing a good life for her, and he was a fundamentally good man. Sure, as time had gone on they didn’t really go to mass or confession much, but being a churchgoing Catholic was hardly the only component of moral rectitude. Her dad was so much more than this one bad decision. Maybe he needed the money, maybe it filled a void, but it didn’t matter. In the end he’d been cornered and chose to run – right in to another trap.

She remembered Rex Tholen’s calculating glances and meticulous nature, and could easily envision him taking one look at the cargo that Hadrian had managed to smuggle in before killing him in cold blood. He may have been the epitome of island royalty, but he was still a drug lord, and her father had underestimated him.

However, regardless of where the fault lay, she was now in effect an orphan. And rather than being an orphan that was abandoned on the steps of a hospital or church in some sappy movie, she found herself on a foreign island that she’d never even heard of, with a bunch of soldiers her down and no way to leave. Panic threatened to rise up and consume her again, and she fought it back. How was she going to get out of this? Even her father’s powerful mob ties could be of no help to her now.

She flicked her eyes back to this ‘agent Aberland’. Could she trust him? Why did he want to help her so much? She studied him, taking a page from his book and looking for clues to tell her more about his character. His face was softened in to an apologetic expression that didn’t seem completely genuine, she observed with a frown. Brown eyes, brown hair, needed a shave, and his face had a light film of sweat and dirt, like someone on the run would have. Like her. He was tan from island living, but muscular and lean. He hadn’t gotten too lazy on his beach bum post, if his story was true. He was wearing a white tank and khaki shorts with a utility belt and hiking boots, and carrying what looked like a balled up khaki shirt in his left hand. It seemed like a standard law enforcement uniform for an island country … and then it clicked. It was the uniform that Tholen’s guards wore!

“You forgot to include why you’re wearing the exact same clothes that Tholen’s personal soldiers wear,” she hissed with venom in her voice, gesturing angrily with the gun. “We sure are getting off to a great start, Agent Blane Aberland. If that really is your name,” she added nastily.

He groaned inwardly. He should’ve dropped the khaki shirt on the ground, or taken off his guard’s belt, or something. She was sharp for a 20 year old. ‘Less is more’ wasn’t going to cut it with this one.

“Yes, you’re right. I’m wearing this because the way that I’m gathering more intelligence on Tholen and his operation is by actually working for him directly as a guard, and reporting the details back to my command base.”

Larkin was looking at him like he was insane.

“But if I’m going to be completely honest, my other role here is that I’m a double agent. Tholen knows my real reason for being on the island – he knows that I’m reporting back. We had an agreement that I would give him a heads up if the US started to make a move, so that he could escape. In return he would order me crates of packaged food from America, plus give me something good to report every now and then. But mostly it gave me something to do other than sit around in that crumbling old house every day, slowly going crazy. It was a win-win. Until yesterday anyway, when he ratted me out to the guards and started them on a huge manhunt for me. He must be planning something big and doesn’t want any attention …

“But what all of this really means is that I’m on the run, like you. That’s the honest truth. We both need to find a way off this stupid island. I figured we’d have a better shot together.”

“So, let me get this straight,” Larkin said, her voice dripping with disdain. “You’re a secret agent, and also a double agent, there are two other agents, and the drug lord’s guards are after you too. Do you think I’m an idiot? It sounds like you just read the summary on the back cover of a spy novel! How am I supposed to believe that?”

Teenage girls complicate everything. This was beginning to take too much time.

“You’re supposed to believe it because it’s true! Look, it might sound more realistic if I had time to fill you in on all the details and tell you my whole life’s story, but I don’t. The point is that you need to know they’re mainly after me right now. You’re just a bonus. And I’ve got news for you kid - America for the past 20 years has read like one big spy novel.”

Larkin was quiet for a minute. That sympathetic look that was just slightly disingenuous was still stuck in her mind.

“Why are you doing this anyway? You’re apparently a Navy Seal and a double agent; that’s practically a modern day superhero. I can’t possibly help you in any way; I’ll only drag you down instead. If all of this is true, that is.”

“That’s easy. Because I don’t want to leave you behind. Even though I only just met you, it’s not fair, and I’m not heartless enough to do it.”

“And how do I know you’re not going to make me trust you, then trot me back to Governor Tholen and serve me up on a platter in exchange for ending the manhunt? Or better yet, a way out?”

“Because I know too much. He can’t call off the guards and he can’t let me leave. He needs me dead. All you are is an extra detail. He doesn’t think you’ll stay alive out here, much less find a way to escape. He just doesn’t want your body lying around to be found by the locals or have you show up in the village like a crazy person and complicate things.”

“So actually, if I were to join up with you, it would be more dangerous for me because I’d have the guards after me again,” she said matter-of-factly.

Blane fought to keep from rolling his eyes again. She was missing the point.

“Well, that’s true … but you don’t even know how to defend yourself. The way you’re holding that Colt 1911 right now, you’d fire about 40 degrees to the left.” Larkin looked at the gun angrily. So it was obvious she didn’t have a clue about that stuff. Damn.

“Besides, do you even have a plan? Or an idea?”

“Mainly I’ve just been trying to survive,” Larkin snapped back.

“Then don’t you think that surviving would be a little easier with my help? I know this island pretty well, I have a good idea of what the Lieutenant’s next move is, and I can definitely secure a safe shelter and decent food for us.”

Larkin glared at him stubbornly. The last thing that she wanted was to spend more time with this guy, but he had a point. Several, in fact.

“But where I can really help you is leaving Tortola,” he continued. “We’ll have to procure some type of transportation – either a boat or a plane. Regardless of whether you have experience with either of those, it will be a lot easier with two people. Especially if we have to use force to get what we need.”

Well that was a particularly good point. Much to her chagrin, it looked like she would have to work with the slimy double agent. She made a mental note that no matter what happened, she needed to be on her guard and not make the mistake of trusting him. Part of his job every day until now had been lying and playing people. And reporting to the United States government. She couldn’t afford to forget that.

“Alright then,” she said. “We can work together to get out of this mess, but only until we safely get to another country. I don’t need your shadow following me around any longer than it has to.” She lowered the gun and gestured impatiently for him to get up from the boulder where he’d been detained.

“You took the words right out of my mouth. Now first things first – let me show you how to hold that.”

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