Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 32

Aberland made a judgment call. He decided that they’d have to miss the transmission and try to replay it using Tholen’s software, or attempt to re-confirm with Alpha if they had to. Aberland hoped that they wouldn’t have to take that risk. He also didn’t want to attempt to confront Tholen prior to the transmission, mainly because the ensuing “discussion” would result in them missing it anyway. Besides, it would be best not to show their hand too early by revealing to Tholen that they were both alive, working together, aware of Martin’s correspondence with Control, and a threat to his own escape plans, if that’s what he was really up to. Better to leave all of those pleasant revelations for later, if at all possible. Therefore, they couldn’t risk Tholen seeing them together before the message was relayed, since they weren’t supposed to know about it or each other in the first place.

He reappeared next to Larkin again and whispered, “I need you to go enter the house through the patio doors and hide in the library. It’s next to the sitting area, just down the hall to the left. It’s dark and full of bulky leather furniture. You’ll be safe there. I’ll go to the front door and pretend to be a guard, and I’ll have to lead them and Tholen away for a few minutes, but I’ll be right back. Then we’ll go see if we can listen to that message.”

“Are you kidding??” she whispered back fiercely. “That wasn’t the plan! Why do we have to do all this anyway? It’s too dangerous. If taking all of these risks is something we’re ok with now, why can’t we just go hijack the plane instead and stop screwing around?”

“Because Tholen is our wild card and he’s dangerous. He may be headed for his plane in a few minutes after hearing that message. I have to distract him to buy us some time. And it would be really nice to know his plan too.”

Larkin looked extremely upset. “I’m only agreeing to do this if you promise that nothing bad will happen to me.”

“I promise Larkin. Now go, I’ve got to put this plan in motion before it’s too late.”

She glared at him before making her move, looking around her hurriedly as she darted in to the house. The instant that she was safely out of sight, Aberland was in motion too. He raced around the side of the house again, all the way to the front entrance gate, taking care to make himself invisible to his comrades until the exact moment that he was ready to reveal himself. Then he slowed from his sprint to a hurried, self-important walk as he advanced on the front door.

The remaining two disgruntled guards might as well have not been there, because they obviously felt that no one was going to keep them on task and were idly slouched in the doorway, one twiddling a leaf between his fingertips, the other staring off in to the distance. They both straightened up in a hurry when they saw Aberland, tossing the leaf down on the brick terrace like little kids hiding a mess from an angry parent. Aberland couldn’t quite remember their names, but it didn’t matter.

“What’s going on? Shouldn’ you be resting an’ getting ready for the party?” one guard asked, a little bitterly.

Aberland shook his head urgently. “No, Lieutenant Howell sent me. We have to speak with Governor Tholen, immediately,” he snapped, doing his best slight British accent. His American had always been too easily identifiable.

His fellow guards looked alarmed. It was an unusual request, to be sure. There was no telling what had occurred to warrant an unorthodox demand for the governor’s attention. It was normally the governor who requested, or rather commanded audiences, not the other way around. One of his colleagues raised his eyebrows and slowly opened the front door, and Aberland followed them inside.

“He should be upstairs…” muttered the other guard, taking the steps two at a time. Aberland stole a glance at the large clock as they rushed by. 5:02 pm. Tholen was definitely upstairs.

They burst on to the second floor landing, and the guard in front headed for the office to the left first. To the right, the bedroom kept under lock and key clearly had a light on inside.

“Could he be in that bedroom?” Aberland volunteered.

The other two young guards were already nervous at having to participate in such an abnormal situation, and the mere mention of disturbing their busy employer in his top secret, forbidden room decimated what little confidence they had left. The unfortunate one in front hesitated outside the door, looking back at Aberland, who obligingly made a frantic “go on” motion. Practically swallowing audibly, he knocked lightly on the door.

“I don’t think he heard you…” Aberland pressed. The young guard sighed with regret and knocked more firmly. On the other side of the door, something smashing against a hard surface and muffled cursing could be heard. The three backed up instinctively.

The door flew open and Tholen stormed out, intensely annoyed, slamming the door behind him.

“What is it? It had better be good!” he yelled, looking angrily from one guard to the other.

“I – I’m sorry sir, but we have a message from Lieutenant Howell for you sir.”

“Yes, the Lieutenant needs to see you right away sir, I think he’s found the girl you were looking for,” Aberland supplied.

Tholen’s anger softened to surprise and intrigue. He hadn’t counted on that. At this point, he didn’t really care, but he couldn’t afford to raise Howell’s suspicions by not attending to this business. Though it was an unwelcome diversion, it wouldn’t take too long to assess the situation, issue an order, and invent a somewhat valid reason to return to the manor.

He looked at each of them, eyeing them suspiciously. The two from the entry looked so terrified that they might actually cry. The other… there was something vaguely familiar about him but he couldn’t quite place it.

“What was your name?” he demanded of Aberland.

“Smith, sir. Jack Smith,” Aberland improvised, attempting to use the most generic name possible. He cast a sideways glance at his comrades, hoping that they hadn’t realized that there was no Jack Smith in the governor’s employ. But they hadn’t even registered the interaction; they were too afraid of losing their jobs, which had recently become much more glorified than they already were in their little town.

The name meant nothing to Tholen, but then it occurred to him that he didn’t know any of their names, and they all looked familiar to him on some level.

“Fine,” he barked. “We’ll take my car.”

The guards obediently followed Tholen downstairs and out to the garage adjacent to the villa, where Tholen housed his imported BMW sedan and Mercedes convertible, both in that glittery obsidian finish that luxury automotive manufacturers like to call Tahitian Pearl. Tholen was so confident in his security measures that he kept the keys hanging on hooks near the door, and he snatched the Mercedes keys from their place mid-stride without missing a step.

The guards obligingly piled on to the buttery leather seats and Tholen quickly backed the vehicle out and roared down the drive, ready to be done with the errand.

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