Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 15

Having been angrily dismissed, John Dorian had the unfortunate task of rounding up his men again, who would undoubtedly be extremely reluctant to go back on the hunt. They’d enjoyed their night at home, and having gotten the distinct impression that they’d fulfilled the expectations for their job assignment, weren’t planning on doing anything but relaxing for a while. After some rather time-consuming threatening and cajoling, he was able to corral the group and set off to find the Lieutenant.

Two hours’ begrudgingly steady walk along the now familiar broken coastal road found them passing through Road Town once again. More and more dilapidated houses rose up at them with each curve in the road, creating an otherworldly scene that many of them hadn’t seen in years – a scary ghost town, and a reminder for some of what their life on Tortola once was. It was sobering, and the reality that came with it seemed to make their mission feel even more arduous.

As the road wound around the harbor with its decaying docks, a welcome distraction presented itself as they drew closer to the old governor’s house; they would need to choose the most efficient way to rejoin their compatriots. After a brief, half-hearted discussion, Dorian and the others decided not to bother with actually going up in to the woods to retrace their path from the estate, even though it was where they’d last parted with the Lieutenant and his group. It was an unnecessary and time-consuming deviation, and since they knew the general direction that the troupe had taken, they opted instead to cut inland farther down the road, at the site of the decomposing Dutch fort just ahead of them. Those that had lived in Road Town previously knew it well – it was an old remnant of the first colonial days of the island, which was now reduced to a pile of mossy old stones and decaying wood. The village children used to tell silly ghost stories about it and played there despite their mothers’ warnings. The sorrowful men shook their memories of that other life off with each step away from the forgotten place and moved on. From the fort it only took them a couple of hours more to begin to catch up to the other men on the southeast side of Mount Sage. Their counterparts had obviously been taking a very leisurely pace to have not made it any farther, perhaps because the excitement and thrill of the hunt had dwindled to an attitude of tedious obligation.

Dorian and his men followed the sound of loud voices to find the Lieutenant’s group resting lazily in a clearing. Most of them didn’t even bother to get up at the sound of others approaching, and had clearly forgotten that they should be wary of Aberland sneaking up to kill them like a pack of wild hogs. It wasn’t as though it would be a challenge for him anyway, but they could at least pretend to care about not getting slaughtered.

‘As upset as tha gov’nor was, itsa good thing he didn’ come with us,’ the Lieutenant’s second-in-command thought. Not that he would ever lower himself to tromping through the humid forest. The men heartily greeted each other and fell in to catching up, while Lieutenant Howell drew the head guard aside to hear the news.

“So we continued north an’ searched the coast, Parham Town, an’ Beef Isluhn but didn’ fin’ anything. I reported to Tholen this morning an’ he was realla angry. He said we need that traitah Aberland an’ the girl, dead or alive. That’s why he sent us back down to help you.” Dorian paused. “N-not tha’ you need any help sir.”

Howell thought this over. He’d been putting off calling in to Tholen, hoping to find something newsworthy or even victorious to report. However it would appear that Tholen was more worked up about the whole situation than he’d bargained for. Now he was in hot water for sure.

But why did Tholen even give a damn about the girl? What was the point? Sure, he understood that Tholen was furious about Aberland’s betrayal, but was it really serious enough to merit this kind of enraged retaliation? Besides, what would he do with him when he was caught? Kill him? Probably. After all, the man was one of the most ruthless that he’d ever met. The Lieutenant shook his head. This was all beside the point, because it didn’t matter why Tholen cared so much in the end. If Howell didn’t want to be on Tholen’s bad side, he needed to bring these two in, and fast.

He clapped a hand on Dorian’s back. “Thank you brotha,” he said, and trudged around to the center of the clearing.

“Listen up!” he yelled, calling his men to attention. “Tholen is mad as hell about Aberland an’ that girl. We gotta find them an’ bring ’em back immediately.” A few guards rolled their eyes; others sighed and slumped, apparently still unmotivated.

“Look, do you want Tholen mad at you?” he demanded, pointing at a heavier guard that was leaning up against a rough tree with a scowl on his face. He shook his head begrudgingly.

“Do you?” he yelled, pointing at another. That guard jumped up, struggling to his feet to avoid being berated too. The threats seemed to hit home. The rest of the lazy group began to get to their feet and brush off their shorts.

“Besides, let’s not forget that girl’s daddy killed two of your friends!”

A few let out angry yells. They fell in line behind their fearless leader, on the move now with renewed vigor, pushing through the dense forest and climbing uphill to skirt around the south side of the mountain at Howell’s orders. The Lieutenant was satisfied. It wasn’t a big island. They were bound to find some trace of one or the other wanted individuals soon. He hoped.

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Agent Aberland had set off down the fractured road bordering Larkin’s pond at a jog, hurrying to cover as much ground as possible. He had a good idea of the direction that the soldiers would be lazily wandering in, but he didn’t know for sure. Plus he wanted to find out whether his theory about his fellow agents checked out, and he needed to do something about dinner. All in the span of four hours or so before the sun set.

He first made his way back to the old governor’s house, since it would be the easiest of his three tasks to complete. If he was right, that is. He soon found the faint dirt trail that led down to the manor, and began to see the five building complex emerge through the trees shortly thereafter. Aberland slowed to a cautious pace, moving silently in to what he determined would be an ideal position on the far side of the car port, where he was likely out of their line of vision but could still easily study the house.

There he paused to contemplate his next move. He knew that the agents rarely left the master bedroom, except to walk down to the forest edge to relieve themselves a few times a day. He couldn’t afford to wait around for the next bathroom break, so he decided that it would be best (and undeniably more fun) to provoke them in to leaving. However it was also imperative that Aberland avoid entering the house and making an appearance on their surveillance camera feed until it was absolutely necessary. The solution was clear. He would create a diversion, something to lure them out to investigate.

This was the fun part of his job; it was the aspect that made it difficult to leave the military. He relished the opportunity to plan a trap so well that every player was a chess piece, each of which moved exactly when and where he wanted them to, and usually not without a few good ruthless encounters and kills in the process. There’s a reason that everyone loves a halfway decent action movie – it’s not just fun to watch, it’s fun to imagine getting to live larger than life even if it only lasted a few hours. Though his day-to-day situation was arguably not as compelling as all that.

Compared to his war games this was child’s play, but strategizing and scheming was so refreshing after years of boredom. So even though it wasn’t terribly complicated, Aberland still weighed his options carefully. He could open and loudly close a window on the first floor, or for that matter, break the glass. He could fire a shot in to the surrounding trees, but that would alert the guards to the fact that he was back on the grounds – no one other than Aberland would be by themselves in the woods, shooting a gun nearby. Moreover, it would give away his position on the off chance that they were paying attention close enough. He could throw a stone in to the fetid pool, but they might not even hear it. What had once been water was thick with algae, mud, and God knows what else. It might just swallow the stone whole, without a sound. The easily drawn conclusion was that the window was the best choice.

Being mid-afternoon, the rear-facing windows were in shadows and the sun illuminated the front face of the house instead, causing the Atlantic Ocean to practically glitter for anyone who might be there to enjoy the view. Which created a perfect setup for the agent. He could shatter a back window and easily retreat to his position behind the garage to watch the result. The lighting would prevent him from casting a shadow through the window on to the interior floor, and they’d never know from the camera feed that it was an actual person encroaching upon the back promenade.

Aberland gently broke a medium-sized branch from a tree nearby. He knew that the glass panes were so old and compromised that they’d practically disintegrate with his touch. Still, he needed to create his diversion at close range, since throwing a rock or even a small pebble would be a dead give-away that an animal wasn’t responsible. His eyes combed the upper balcony and cobwebbed windows for signs of movement before creeping out from his hiding spot. It seemed to be all clear.

He darted out and knelt near the crumbling foundation of the house, preparing to make his move, when he spotted an iguana ambling towards the cracked pavement surrounding the mired pool. ‘Perfect,’ he thought, using his khaki guard’s shirt as a net and throwing it over the iguana, and snatched it up before it could scamper away. In one quick motion, he broke the glass and dumped the iguana inside the house, then darted back to the rear of the carport, discarding his branch along the way.

Inside, Martin and Smith had been playing cards, and both looked up in surprise when their game was interrupted by the unprecedented sound of breaking glass coming from the first floor. They both turned to scrutinize the surveillance cameras’ monitor screens, but still couldn’t find any explanation for the sound. The two shared a concerned glance, but tried to shrug it off.

“It’s probably nothing. I’ll go check it out,” Martin volunteered as he tried to keep from looking nervous. “I need to stretch my legs anyway.”

“Okay, you shouldn’t need anyone to cover you. I’ll watch you from here,” Smith replied, a little uncertainly. “It sounded like it came from one of the back windows.”

Martin tried to half-heartedly meander through the rooms on the first floor, making the rounds just like always. And as usual, there wouldn’t be anything there to find. He was busy reassuring himself that Aberland would be much more stealthy and the guards would be much less, so he should just chill out, until it occurred to him that the window-breaking incident might itself be a trap. He had a moment of panic, imagining Blane Aberland poised outside of the house, ready to jump in and catch him off-guard. He reached down to his utility belt and fumbled clumsily with the handgun holster. With a muttered curse he finally got his fingers to cooperate and proceeded more cautiously to the back rooms.

He patrolled the halls and searched each room, trying to calm his nerves and focus. It was in the last room that he came to (of course, he thought) that he found the broken window. His heart started racing. Martin edged in to the small dank space, staying close to the rotting paneled wall, keeping the breached entry point in sight and his weapon drawn and ready to fire. He circled around to the window and quickly leapt out in front of it, then back to the side in the hopes of tricking Aberland in to reacting. No luck. Maybe he wasn’t really there after all? He cautiously approached the window again and looked outside, holding his breath. Only the same dank pool, overgrown gardens, and dilapidated buildings met his eye through the dusty panes. No one was there. Then what on earth could’ve broken the window?

In that tense moment he felt something cold and scaly slither along the back of his neck, and his nerves were so on edge that he jumped again and let out a decidedly unmanly squeal, clawing at his collar to evade whatever new threat was assailing him. As he thrashed around, his frantic eyes landed on an iguana climbing up the wall next to the window. Its tail must’ve been his terrifying attacker. Martin backed away and slumped against a wall as he tried to catch his breath and slow his thundering heartbeat. He glowered at the offending iguana, but made the mature decision to restrain himself from lashing out and crushing it, partially due to the fact that those nails looked particularly long and sharp, but also because he told himself that he was past the childish temper tantrums of his earlier military years. Instead Martin plodded sullenly back upstairs, shaking his head. He’d had enough excitement for the day.

Both Smith and Aberland had watched the whole exploratory mission, each from a different vantage point. At the sight of Martin jumping around like a monkey, Aberland had to try pretty hard to suppress a laugh. What a bumbling idiot.

Martin re-entered the hideout in a huff, unconsciously rubbing the back of his neck. Smith played it cool and acted like he hadn’t seen Martin dancing around, to preserve his dignity and pride, and of course not provoke his temper.

“So what was it?” he tried to ask nonchalantly.

“Can an iguana break a window? Because that’s all I saw.” Martin said, still confused about the whole thing.

Smith shrugged. It didn’t seem to make sense, but what other explanation was there? They went back to their card game, each telling themselves that it was nothing; they were just being paranoid.

Meanwhile Aberland was already on the move, having confirmation of his suspicions that his fellow agents had in fact reclaimed their residence at the house. That’s all he needed to know about them, for now. He hiked about a mile due south, then started scoping out a tall tree in his vicinity. It didn’t take him long to locate a 15 foot tall mahogany, which were fortunately pretty common near Mount Sage, and made perfect climbing trees. He had to work noticeably harder to scale it than he used to, but managed to make it to the top without any ugly cuts to be forced to explain to Larkin later. Pushing up through the last leafy branch and through the canopy, Aberland was satisfied to find that he had an excellent view of most of that half of the island. From there the sight of the ocean and the beautiful turquoise green waters in Tortola’s many secluded coves and reefs was breathtaking. He wondered briefly if Larkin might like to see it, then scolded himself and redirected his thoughts – there was no time for sightseeing. He settled in to watch the treetops for any sign of a group of men moving amongst them. After half an hour of scanning the forest canopy with the sun beating down on him, the treetops had stopped distinguishing themselves and started to blend together in to a rippling green wave.

He had just closed his eyes and re-opened them to try to maintain his focus when he saw something faintly in the distance, he could have sworn it. He shook his head and squinted, hoping to see it again. Nothing. A few minutes more of desperate searching passed, and still nothing. He was almost ready to give up and resign himself to acknowledging that he must have imagined it when he detected just the slightest motion. Along the southeast edge of Mount Sage, some trees shuddered slightly. Then after a moment the trees to their right swayed. Then more movement, a little more to the right. It had to be the guards, moving west and a little south by the looks of it. It seemed like they intended to comb the mid-western part of the island next. After watching for a little while longer, Blane was satisfied with his assessment and began his descent.

Glancing at his watch, he calculated that he had a little more than an hour and a half left to find dinner before he needed to head back to camp. This would be the tricky part as there was no large game on the island. The only wild mammal was a mongoose, and even if he could catch one, they would need four or five to constitute a decent meal for the two of them. He was pretty sure that if he brought back a treasure trove of bugs (the fastest and easiest option), Larkin would not be interested. And he had no time to fish. Then again, there was the little city of Parham Town about 4.5 miles away, where plenty of women already had dinner cooking on the stove and in the oven. With some luck, he could make it there and back by sunset.

He set off at a quick pace back up the mountain, aiming to return to the dilapidated road that had become his and Larkin’s main thoroughfare. He hadn’t explored its northbound route, but he had a feeling that it would take him very close to Parham Town and felt assured there wouldn’t be a soul to bother him on it. After all, he felt that he qualified as a “local”, having spent five years on the island, and even he hadn’t known about the path. It wasn’t difficult to find, and once he reached the road he was able to break in to a good run. He had no intention of stopping by to check on Larkin on the way, there was no time for that. He caught himself by surprise, wondering if she was alright and hoping that she didn’t need him for anything as he passed by the familiar hillside. He quickly put the thought out of his mind and returned to the task at hand, and even began to relish the opportunity to finally be back on a legitimate mission again, and even get a little physical training in. The one good thing about being a fugitive was that he was getting plenty of exercise for a change.

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