Back inside the house, the Lieutenant had ordered the guards to carry the dead agent downstairs to the first floor. The couple of men that were busy searching the other buildings in the complex had come running at the sound of guns firing, and arrived to find the victorious duo of their colleagues whooping and hollering, clambering to re-tell their stories of the action and basking in the attention. Meanwhile Howell was busy pacing back and forth, deciding what to do. He had sent one of the men to Road Town to gather the other half of the group, though the delegate had needed a little convincing since he was rather distraught at not getting to hear the heroes’ accounts.
By the time the remaining five rushed in and the original group began recounting their war stories yet again, Howell had made up his mind. He left the library where he had been brooding and returned to the main sitting room, regarding the spectators bemusedly as they stared at the now-famous two re-enacting the whole affair for the third time. He waited until they were finished, knowing that simple joys for simple men, like so many commanders before him had employed, were essential to keep them working for him instead of fishing for a living.
When the last ego-inflated hero had taken his seat to a chorus of cheers, the Lieutenant pushed his way to the front of the group. A hush quickly fell over them, for they were all wondering the same thing – what was the meaning of another secret American agent on the island and more importantly, what were they going to do with him now that he was lying dead in the middle of the room?
Howell cleared his throat and began. “I want to firs’ thank all of you for your hard work on this career-defining mission, an’ those men that helped take down this agent,” he said, gesturing to the body lying on the floor behind them. Some turned to look warily, but most nervously avoided it. They had to honor their superstitions about those who had already passed on, even if the man was a traitor.
“The question is, what should be done with him?” Howell continued, walking back and forth in front of them, his hands clasped behind his back like a commander inspecting his troops.
“I don’ know why there was another operative here besides the traitorous Blane Aberland. I have thought it over an’ they both had to be working for the United States – keeping an eye on our island an’ maybe a few others in this area. What’s more, he wasn’t dressed like Aberland. Aberland wears a guard uniform, like us, but this man was wearing his own casual clothes, it seems. This tells me that he stayed out of sight, maybe based here in this very house, while Aberland did the dirty work of pretending to be a guard to spy on us.” At this revelation the soldiers murmured and shifted, shocked that all of this had been going on right under their unsuspecting noses.
“Now, there is the matter of Governor Tholen. We all know that he wants Aberland’s head on a platter, an’ that stupid girl too.” Here Howell paused, sitting down wearily in the dust to be on their level, and sighed dramatically.
He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “The truth is, I don’ think we can find him. He’s a spy an’ a traitor, an’ he’s good at what he does. By the time we combed every inch of Tortola, he’d be long gone. An’ I’m sure that girl is dead in the woods somewhere by now. To find exactly where she is would take a while too. That’s a long time away from good food, comfortable beds, an’ the company of your beautiful wives, am I right?” He was met with nods and murmured affirmations.
“It’s also a long time to make the Governor wait, an’ we all know what that means too.” He looked in to the group of worried faces nodding back.
“Now here we have another American man, just a little shorter than Aberland.” He paused, tapping his finger on the dusty floor as he pretended to ponder the situation, and come to a (slightly too dramatic) revelation.
“What if … what if his face were not so distinguishable? Do you think someone might agree that he could be the traitor agent Blane Aberland?”
“Maybe…” “Yeah sure.” “I guess.” “Yes!” – came the varied responses. He was reeling them in slowly, coaxing them in to coming around to the idea. They weren’t the brightest, these men, but he needed them to believe in his plan and not rat him out, or he’d lose his head.
“I think so.” He held up one hand for everyone to see as he counted off the reasons, appearing to realize with each word how perfect the plan really was. “So, if we can’t get Aberland or find the girl in time (1), we want to go home (2), an’ we don’t want the Governor furious with us (3) – maybe we should do it!” he exclaimed. A cheer went up, but some still didn’t seem completely convinced. Howell employed the tactic that he’d been saving for last.
“Listen. You men are the best guards in the Caribbean. Tholen told me so himself. He has so much money, he could hire assassins if he wanted, but he hired all of you! After all, you two took that agent down an’ didn’t even know to expect him! Now we don’t want to disappoint the Governor, do we? Besides, I know that all of you are tired and hungry. This is the best for everyone. Tholen will be happy not to have to worry about Aberland anymore an’ so will we. But I don’t want to make a big decision like this without consulting you all firs’; it needs to be your choice too. So what do you think?”
“Yeah!” they cheered, basking in the all-too-generous compliments.
“Then here’s what we do. We’ll stay here tonight – no more camping in the woods for heroes! We’ll carry “Aberland” back in the morning an’ report to the Governor. Let’s get the story straight now: you can tell it exactly like it happened, jus’ make it Aberland instead of that man. This will only work if no one tells it differently, understand?” Howell glared in to each of their faces, trying to intimidate them into forgetting that a different version of the story ever existed. They were nodding vigorously, their faces serious and determined. This might actually work.
That night was going to be the best that they’d spent together since their illustrious mission had begun. With so many idle hands and mouths to feed, Howell sent everyone out to scrounge up their own dinner. It was only halfway through the day and Parham Town was just a couple of hours away, so most of them decided to simply raid their own kitchens, give their wives a kiss on the cheek and promises of an amazing story, then run back. Sure, the question of why they didn’t just go home that night crossed one or two minds, but was easily explained away with the appeal of relaxing before having to carry a heavy dead man through the jungle. Besides, they couldn’t just leave the body out there overnight and the animals get to him. He might be an enemy, but it was just plain human decency.
Only one of them put two and two together. The Lieutenant’s right-hand man, John Dorian, realized that he wanted to solidify their plan of action with a night of brotherly bonding, knowing full well that trust was key among these men.