Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 27

It took the weary fugitives a couple of hours to make their way back to Parham Town, mainly due to the fact that they had to meander around in the darkness and try to find their way. By the time the window lights of the quaint village homes twinkled out in to the woods at them, it was pitch black outside.

Larkin was clearly exhausted as Blane led her through the outskirts of town, and she stumbled here and there as they tried to keep to the shadows and creep near the trees. After what seemed like an eternity to her, they emerged from the bushes at last behind Tholen’s estate. There the warehouse loomed out at them in the dark with the faint outlines of flowering vine-covered fences just beyond it, triggering an unwanted flood of memories from the last time that she was there.

“So I’ll just go walk the perimeter of the grounds and check out the warehouse really quickly, to make sure that everything is secure,” he whispered urgently, not wanting to waste any more time in getting them settled for the night. She looked as though she could pass out and go to sleep on the spot, and he still had to do something about getting them some dinner.

Blane was about to continue, then changed his mind at the sight of tears glittering in her eyes.

“Would you rather that we go back in to the woods and sleep there?” he asked gently.

She shook her head. She wasn’t concerned about the cold (it would only get down to the mid-70s at night) but her battered body just couldn’t tolerate sleeping on the hard ground or rocks again. There was bound to be something better than that in the warehouse, she figured.

“Okay,” he said doubtfully. Then do you want to stay here while I go check it out?”

“Sure.”

“You’d better have a gun ready, just in case. You remember how to hold it and shoot, right?”

She made a face at him in the dark. “Yeah.”

“Okay, then stay right here and I’ll be back in a little while. If you get nervous about being alone, you can always climb a tree. No one will be looking for you up there.”

She nodded meekly, hating the place with every fiber of her being and wishing that they could just leave right then instead of having to stay in that insufferable place, and worse, spy on Tholen. The very last thing that she wanted to do was see that brute’s despicable face again, much less be forced to analyze his every move. She watched as Blane melted in to the darkness, then sat down wearily among some bushes where she was barely visible, with her back propped up against a tree. A gnawing hunger clawed at her insides, and she shoved a hand in to her bag to eat some more of the pulpy sweet and sour beans while she waited. They had grown sticky from being crushed by the guns and manhandled so much, but she didn’t care. All that mattered to her at that moment was trying to keep her mind from wandering back to the vivid memories that this place had burned in to it.

Meanwhile, Blane was lurking along the elaborate wrought iron fencing that separated the illustrious governor’s property from the surrounding woods. So far, he’d seen no sign of the usual guard assigned to walk the gardens at night, and from his vantage point he couldn’t see anyone on the terrace or balconies either. Certainly a good sign. He could see that the sparkly imported lamps and chandeliers of the first floor rooms were still illuminated, which meant that dinner was likely coming to an end. Aberland wondered if there were any guests for dinner this evening or if Tholen was too preoccupied with his scheming to want to entertain. It didn’t matter either way. He crept closer to the house, choosing a place to climb over the fence where there was little landscaping to impede him. The fountain was merrily trickling away as usual, and the large heavy lanterns were still ablaze on the patio, though the doors were closed. Before coming any closer, Aberland opted to double-check each side of the villa, to be sure that no patrolling guards would surprise him.

Crouching down, he covertly crept to the edge of the garden on the right side of the house, peering through the iron posts. Nothing there. Then taking care to stay close to the stucco wall and low enough to be invisible from the patio windows’ view, he neared the terrace and peered around the corner of the house, looking in to the floor-to-ceiling windows for any people or movement. A solitary maid came in to view, bustling down the hall, and he quickly drew back and waited a few minutes more before checking briefly to be certain that no one had appeared and possibly seen him, then proceeded around to the left side of the house using the same degree of caution. No one there either.

He wasn’t sure what he’d expected – everyone in the village worth hiring for Rex Tholen’s personal guard was already in his employ. Still, the man hated to be vulnerable. He might have hired an idle fisherman or two just to walk the premises at night. Most certainly he’d done so to have security at the airport, he couldn’t afford not to. If such temporary hires were on the grounds tonight, they wouldn’t exactly be much defense against a real attack from a fellow drug lord or someone like Aberland, but at least they’d make a lot of noise going down, enough to give Tholen notice to escape.

Now to see whether he could get an idea of what Tholen was up to. Aberland had just turned to examine the rear of the house more thoroughly when he heard footsteps on the path behind him. His hand tightened around his newly adopted Mack 10 and he whirled, ready to fire, and found – no one. His breath came out in a rush and his heart was racing frantically. It was just another indication that he’d grown soft. He looked down to discover that a mongoose had been keeping him company and fought the urge to kick it, thankful that he hadn’t actually got a haphazard shot off.

Calm and resolute once again, he drew near the rear of the house once again, standing next to the darkened window closest to him, which he knew to be sunroom. They were no blinds on the windows to impede his view and nothing to be found of interest there, as expected. Tholen only used the room to take his morning coffee and read up on the news from the United States and Europe. Moving on hastily, Aberland passed a downstairs powder room and the library windows, both darkened and without activity as well. Then came the patio, with its sumptuous chaise lounges and elegantly woven wicker furniture, not hosting a soul either that balmy evening. As he’d observed before, the doors were closed for once, and the crème linen curtains hung still without a breeze to stir them indoors.

The interior appeared unchanged, and there was nothing remarkable going on. Even though the sitting area, grand foyer, entry chandelier, and elegant staircase were all illuminated, there were no people to grace the rooms. Aberland knew that at this hour if his governorship had no guests he’d be reading in the library, having a cigar outside, or up working in his office. Raising his eyes to the second floor, the ex-Seal could see that his target was not in the office or his bedroom. In fact, no lights were visible on the second floor at all. So where was he? Who knew, maybe examining his exotic stores in the wine cellar? Aberland had hoped to get a chance to assess his enemy’s state of mind, but that advantage would not be his, for now.

Disappointed, he turned to climb back over the fence and inspect the warehouse before returning to Larkin’s side.

§

In the darkness near one of the guest bedroom windows, Tholen gently pushed the blinds back in to place after watching agent Blane Aberland leave the grounds. He slowly exited the room, lost in thought. So Aberland was back, and the crack team of guards headed by his handpicked lieutenant had been unsuccessful. Why had Aberland chosen to sneak around the estate in Parham Town, instead of hijacking the Bellamys’ charter plane or the governor’s own at the airport on Beef Island?

Surely he knew by now that escape by plane was his only course of action, aside from swimming to another island and getting eaten by sharks. What could it mean? Was Aberland planning something more daring? Only time would tell, he supposed, but it was most unfortunate timing to have no men at his disposal. He’d radio them to come back first thing in the morning. With Aberland casing the joint tonight, it was unlikely that he’d make a move until later, the next night perhaps.

Time was running out though, and Rex Tholen sincerely hoped that his opportunity to do things ‘the easy way’ would present itself.

§

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