Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 23

Afternoon, Day 4

Larkin and Blane had waited patiently on the rooftop, trying in vain to discern what was taking place inside following the shootout. Larkin shrunk down to flatten herself against the uncomfortably broken terra cotta tiles with each new loud noise and exclamation, despite Blane’s assurances that they were well out of sight. They watched as the guards that were sent to search the outlying buildings ran to join their comrades at the sound of guns firing, and the uproar echoing up through the old villa to meet their ears instantly doubled. Shortly thereafter, a single guard left the premises at a sprint, likely to go retrieve the others from their fruitless search in Road Town, Blane told her. He proved right as the excited party came running back, faces flushed from the news and their frantic pace alike.

At the sight of this, Blane spoke up. “I should go down to the second floor to try to hear what their plan is. We need to know when they’re leaving so we can look for the cell phone and figure out our next move.”

By now, Larkin had become accustomed to this sort of reckless behavior, and had even come to expect it. She never would have taken the risk, but she was nowhere near as fast or as agile as Blane, who could escape any predicament, she had no doubt. Besides, she couldn’t argue with having more information with which to make an informed decision. It seemed that with every hour that passed on the island, more obstacles and hindrances arose to keep them from leaving. They needed a concrete plan to get through the maze.

Larkin nodded her assent, a little less begrudgingly than she would have yesterday, Blane noted with satisfaction. She was beginning to trust his instincts more, or resign herself to them, or maybe both.

“I’ll stay up here. I think it’s not very likely that I’ll see or hear anything you won’t be privy to, but I guess if I do need you, how can I get your attention?”

Blane thought for a moment, and then grinned broadly. “Do you know what sound a lark makes?”

Larkin rolled her eyes at him. “No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

“Hey, a bird call is the best option we have!” he protested, throwing his hands up in mock defense. “Just cup your hands around your mouth, like this –” (he demonstrated) “– and say ‘hoo-ee’. I’ll try to stay close enough to the windows that I can hear you.”

“Okay, have fun and don’t get killed,” she lobbed back sarcastically.

He decided to let that one be and gave her a mischievous grin before nimbly dropping from the roof to the second floor promenade below without a sound. Easily remembering the layout of the second floor and the exact locations of the other unused rooms, he quickly made his way around to the north face of the building and located one of the smaller bedrooms that opened on to the landing near the staircase. He gripped the rotting wooden window frame, hoping that he could apply the right amount of pressure to ease it open without a loud shriek, or snapping the wood off. He pulled up firmly and was pleased to be met only with a little squeal, easily drowned out by the victorious guards’ laughter and cheers. He brushed the cracked paint off of his hands before deftly climbing inside and left the window ajar behind him, ready for him to leave in a hurry if need be.

Aberland had fortunately arrived in time to hear the last re-telling of the events that had just transpired, and learned that Smith had indeed died in the gunfight as he suspected, and at Howell’s hand, no less. He listened in amusement as Howell interjected to downplay his part in the encounter, trying to give the glory to his guards and inflate their egos even more. Smart move.

Then came Lieutenant Howell’s compelling monologue, cajoling and complimenting the guards in to agreeing to pass Smith off as Aberland. The real Aberland upstairs would have to be lying to say that he didn’t enjoy hearing the remarks about how difficult he was to corner, just a little. There was something oddly thrilling about hearing compliments and tributes about himself under the mistaken presumption of death. As Howell moved on to the next detail of their scheme, it was a slight relief to hear that he would be forgetting about Larkin, and that one of the goals of this attempt was to distract Tholen from her trail, and take more heat off of himself in the process. He had to admit that it was a solid plan, and if he were in Howell’s shoes he would probably be doing the same thing. And luckily they seemed to be buying in to it without too much difficulty.

By the time the pep rally was over, it was early afternoon, and with the unbelievable event still fresh in their minds, the men were dispatched to find dinner for themselves and return by nightfall. They would be sleeping at the complex that night. This knowledge told Aberland that he wasn’t going to get the opportunity to pick up the cell phone and any other useful equipment they had left behind, especially because Howell now had the manor all to himself. This was no doubt part of the reason for sending the men away – he was obviously about to start searching the place for the same reason.

As soon as he heard the orders, Aberland carefully retreated from the landing back in to the safety of his inner room. Half the challenge of sneaking around the old place was all the creaky floorboards, but luckily he’d long since learnt the noisy spots by heart, having lived there for several years. It was his instinct to seek out the advantages and disadvantages of every location and situation he found himself in, without even thinking about it most of the time. He doubted that the trained skill would ever leave him. This had been no unconscious observation however. Aberland had a strong suspicion from the beginning that he’d be forced to face Tholen in one confrontation or another some day. He knew all the crumbling buildings, the woods, the harbor, the towns, the ruins – the whole island by heart.

He listened acutely, and it only took a few minutes more before heavy footfalls sounded on the creaky floor below as Howell walked around with the house to himself. Aberland lithely stepped through the open window, gently easing it closed behind him. He pressed against the wall next to the window, staying in position and out of sight on the promenade. He could easily monitor the situation from there in the event that anything else of note transpired. At this point, all bets were off.

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