Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 34

Larkin was lingering annoyingly behind Blane, looking over his shoulder and absentmindedly pulling her fingers through her dirty hair. His mind raced frantically, searching all of his mental nooks and crannies for a possible password to unlock the tablet. He took a deep breath and cleared his thoughts. The best way for him to work under pressure was to forget the risks involved, which had been all too easy in the past when it only involved risks for himself. Larkin was a new variable, but what did he expect? He had known that she’d be a liability when he chose to help her. And now he needed to stop worrying about her and focus.

‘Let’s see… Tholen’s a classic narcissist on a power trip so it would be something to do with his name or self-image rather than his legacy, which he would reason will encompass any number of things before he dies. Governor Rex Edward Tholen... There’s Oedipus Rex, the most famous Rex of all, though fatally flawed. Worth a shot anyway.’

Exhaling slowly, he typed Oedipus12, 12 for the year that Tholen was born. No luck. He tried Oedipus2012. Still nothing. Blane decided that out of all of the infinite possibilities, the only decent ideas that he really had were this train of thought and Rex Tholen’s actual name. They were very short on time, and he didn’t really have any other options like downloading software to hack in to the tablet. Besides, there was a good chance that he only got 3 tries to unlock it, depending upon the integrity of Tholen’s security system. He had to stay the course, and choose carefully.

Blane let the idea marinate a little. Oedipus12 was a pretty obvious password, and Tholen was much smarter than that. This was his personal tablet and undoubtedly contained a lot of important contacts and information that he wouldn’t want to risk being discovered.

Then Blane had a stroke of brilliance. Oedipus Rex was a mighty warrior and king who had it all, then lost everything. Tholen would consider himself equal to the man’s success but well above his failure, truly god-like in nature. Blane typed in >Oedipus12, holding his breath and hoping desperately that it would work. The PC seemed to consider this entry for a moment, then gave a satisfying beep and opened with a flourish to the home screen.

“You did it!” Larkin cried, trying to stay very quietly enthused.

Blane nodded with a grin, then quickly returned his attention to the task at hand. The decrypting program was thankfully still active, and Blane pulled it up again. The most recent conversation had indeed registered on the program and was saved there, ready to be played back. All he had to do was press play. Finally, at least one thing could be accomplished without a fight. They both sat very still and listened as Martin’s voice began to speak.

“Victor Yankee, this is 492-13-4057 calling.”

“492-13-4057, is your location secure?”

“Affirmative. 18′24 N by 64′37W.”

“Noted. Have you seen X since they left the club?”

“Negative.”

“A whale is swimming by next week, but for now a bird will fly by at 1945.”

“I’ll wait here to see it.”

Blane was turning around to Larkin to discuss the new information when he heard the slight click of the doorknob catching on the lock. Someone was at the door, quietly testing it to see if they could gain access easily.

Aberland was on his feet in an instant and snatched up his gun from the desk where it had been resting near his hand, ready for action.

“Grab that nightstand and shove it against the door to slow him down, and I’ll cover you,” he said in a low voice to Larkin.

She nodded, and was moving toward the nearest nightstand when they heard the subtle pressurized ricochet of a gun with a silencer, followed immediately by the bullet making contact and bursting through the wood. Larkin froze as Tholen threw the door open and advanced in to the room, not a hair out of place or a wrinkle in his linen suit. The only indication of his urgency was slight perspiration on his brow, and of course, the gun in hand.

His face registered genuine surprise at the sight of her standing across from him, and even more as he saw Blane next with his gun trained on Tholen from where he stood closer to the window. Lastly his eyes flitted to the desk where his tablet normally resided, and his features transformed in to fury to find it missing. Then in an instant his face smoothed over, his expression eerily neutral to reveal nothing.

“Well, this is an interesting development,” he murmured, glancing back and forth between the two unlikely partners. He practically glided further in to the room with his suave manner that was normally so disarming, in spite of the gun pointed at his head and the threat on his life. Larkin and Aberland, however, remained tensely in their respective positions. Aberland was working hard to resist the urge to just kill the vile man on the spot.

“So are you working together? I suppose that you must be. Otherwise you wouldn’t be stupidly wandering around my house alone, would you, young lady?”

Larkin didn’t respond, but glared at him without any attempt to disguise her hatred. She wished that she had the gun in his hand; she would kill him in a heartbeat if she could.

Her temper didn’t seem to phase Tholen, who shifted his cool gaze to Aberland and remarked, “What is perhaps more interesting is the question of why a specialized ex-military operative has bothered dallying with a girl when he should have been saving his own hide. Is it love perhaps?” he paused, clearly toying with them now, trying to get under someone’s skin and provoke them to action.

“No matter,” he added with smugly unjustified satisfaction. “I knew that you had to be up to something, Aberland, when I saw you creeping around the grounds yesterday evening.”

Larkin looked in shock at Aberland but his face registered no emotion. Tholen moved further in to the room, in to the narrow space between the desk and the bed. He was advancing little by little on Aberland, who was maintaining his position near the window in the far corner of the room. A few steps further and Larkin might manage to run out of the room fast enough to avoid getting shot. She wondered if Blane would want her to, and whether he’d try to give her some kind of a signal.

“I wonder, Aberland, did you manage to get in my computer and listen to that conversation that took place?” Tholen continued, his charming purr masking his ruthless nature.

He took another step forward, carefully giving the impression that he was merely holding the gun casually at his side. It caused Aberland to wonder exactly how good his reflexes and accuracy were and if he was capable of a quick draw like his body language was actually indicating. Aberland didn’t recall any target practice on the grounds. He adopted a casual stance himself, one that enabled him to keep a hand near his gun holster too, just in case.

“Maybe I did,” Aberland replied nonchalantly. “Maybe I didn’t. Why would it matter to you?”

Tholen chuckled. “Well, that must be a rhetorical question. You must know or at least have inferred that I need to take a little trip, and I intend to use Martin as a distraction for the upstanding residents of Parham Town and guards so that I can avoid any … complications from the illustrious world police. Also known as your beloved United States military. Of course you must also know that I need to relocate my business operations and would like to divert as much attention as possible from that maneuver, in case some of my “friends” come looking for me.

“So the goal of my question was actually to determine how severely I’ll need to disable the two of you. If you in fact learnt the specifics of my departure time, I’ll probably need to take you both to the basement and introduce you to the unfortunate man that my Lieutenant attempted to pass off as you, the infamous Agent Blane Aberland. I’m certain that you have already made his acquaintance. And in that basement room I would most likely find it necessary to leave the two of you in a similarly deceased fashion, to be certain that you won’t interfere. After all, you do have a propensity for escaping particularly difficult situations, agent.”

Aberland paused, giving the impression of considering this information before responding. “However, if we hadn’t heard the conversation …”

“Ah, well then you can become part of my diversion. I’ll just tie you up and lock you in a room somewhere, then alert Lieutenant Howell to your presence and therefore have disposed of you accordingly. No need to do the dirty work myself if I don’t have to.”

“Interesting. So how will you know whether I answer your question truthfully?”

“Hmm, a good point. Perhaps I should simply merge the two options by tying you both up, beating you senseless, and locking you in a room. It seems to be a very popular way for you Americans to die these days,” the Governor responded, grinning a little too widely.

Aberland appeared to be unfazed by this suggestion, and Larkin was thankful that she was not the center of attention at the moment, as she couldn’t compete with the two of them at disguising her feelings. She was trying not to cower in her corner at the suggestions being made.

“I do think that your plan has a flaw though,” Aberland ventured.

“Oh? And what would that be?”

“Well, we haven’t addressed the sensitive matter of your tablet. And whether or not I was actually able to unlock it and make use of it, since it is notably no longer present on the desk.” Blane was mocking him with formalities now, and enjoying it.

“Yes, that’s true. I was coming to that. Would you happen to know where it is Larkin?” he coaxed as he shifted his handsome blue eyes over to her.

Larkin had been inching towards the door little by little, in case she needed to get out. She froze now under Tholen’s deadly gaze. Behind Tholen, Aberland subtly shook his head “no,” and inclined a finger to point her back in to the room. She obligingly took a confident step back towards the nightstand and defiantly looked Tholen straight in the eye.

“No actually, I can’t say that I know where it is at all.”

At that moment, Aberland kicked the tablet, which was lying at his feet just out of eyesight, as hard as he could under the bed, sincerely hoping that nothing was stored there to impede it. Tholen whirled at the sound, gun raised, but Aberland had already crossed the few feet between them, and easily caused him to drop the gun with a quick and forceful turn of his wrist. Tholen gritted his teeth in pain but fought back. The two men were of a similar height and muscle build, but Aberland was naturally far more skilled. They traded punches for a few minutes before Aberland saw an opportunity and took it, deftly taking hold of Tholen’s now injured wrist and twisting to come around behind his victim, quickly pinned both arms behind his back.

The two looked up from their scuffle, panting a little, Aberland with a split lip and Tholen with a bloody nose, his flawless attire now unfortunately wrinkled and stained. They had become aware for the first time of the sound of water coming from the bathroom, where the door was open and the light on. They both craned their necks to get a look. What was Larkin up to in there?

She emerged from the bathroom with a triumphant grin on her face.

“Oh good, you’re done now,” she remarked, as though she knew all along that it would end with Blane gaining the upper hand, and had just been waiting impatiently for it.

“You know, Blane was telling me that your tablet is pretty valuable to you, Governor Tholen. That you likely had stored information and contacts there that you wouldn’t want to lose. Is that true?” she asked sweetly.

“You stupid little bitch, you give me that tablet now or I’ll kill you,” he hissed.

His calm demeanor was long gone. This was not going according to plan at all. Blane slammed Tholen’s face on the desk, and he came up with a groan and blood gushing from his formerly perfect nose.

“That wasn’t very nice, Rex,” Larkin cooed. “Especially not when I have your precious tablet right here.”

Blane grinned with pride. She had been smart enough to retrieve it from where it had slid over to her side of the bed and use it as leverage instead of simply trying to take it and run away. Either outcome was fine, but this one was far more advantageous.

She held the tablet in the air like a trophy and dangled it over the bathroom sink, now so full of water that it was overflowing on to the floor.

“Would this be what you were looking for?”

“Yes actually,” Tholen sputtered.

She tauntingly lowered it and touched the edge of a corner to the water.

“Fine, what do you want?!” Tholen yelled.

Larkin smiled with satisfaction, turning off the water and placing the tablet precariously on top of the faucet and handles, so that if anyone were to lunge forward and try to grab it in desperation, it would fall in to the water.

“You know, Miss Bellamy, I didn’t want your father to die. That was a most unfortunate event.” Her confidence visibly faltered at the mention of her father. Tholen hurried on, his disgusting charm creeping back in to his voice.

“I wanted to strike a deal with him that day, you see, but he was unhappy with my offer and stood up abruptly, slamming the door. Then one of those idiot guards mistook the sound for a gunshot and shot your poor father. It was too late for him.”

It was Larkin’s turn to fume. “You’re just trying to turn me against Blane! It’s not going to work though. You’re a worthless disgusting lowlife scum pig of a human being, and I’d string you up by your feet right now if it weren’t for…”

“It wasn’t me who yelled that the guards should hunt you down, Larkin. It was Lieutenant Howell. I’m not your enemy. I promise.”

Larkin stopped to consider this, tears filling her eyes. She looked at Blane, who was staring back at her, the look on his face pleading and sincere. Her expression hardened and she shook her head, resolute.

“Your men chased me through the wilderness like an animal,” she spat. “You could have called them off at any moment, but you didn’t.”

“No, they were searching for Blane Aberland, this notorious lying double agent, who, incidentally, exploits any and every angle to get what he wants. He’s using you right now. You’ve already fallen victim to his tricks. You’re nothing but a silly little pawn in his game.”

There it was, her worst fear stated aloud for everyone to hear. She had warned herself about it countless times over the perilous past few days. And just when she’d let her guard down and genuinely begun to trust him, here it was being thrown back in her face.

She wavered, unsure of what to do. She had more reason to trust Blane than Tholen, and more of a chance of getting off the island with him (in theory). If there were any truth to her fears, the worst thing that he could do was abandon her at the airport, but there was no way that Tholen would be bringing her anywhere. He would easily dispose of her there at the house, as he had so graciously reminded her.

She’d made up her mind. She walked over to where Blane was holding Tholen, and her face was completely blank, it gave nothing away to her adversary. They both stared back at her, wondering what she was about to say and whose side she would be on. But Larkin said nothing. She came to a stop in front of them and stood very still, and they couldn’t tell whether she was reconsidering her decision or folding and offering herself up to whatever outcome either man had planned for her. She looked at Tholen, who was still somewhat bent over in pain with Blane keeping him firmly in control, and a flicker of a smile ran across her face. She kicked Tholen in the balls as hard as she possibly could, and then calmly sat on the bed with a satisfied grin, as though she’d just finished her To Do list for the day or some other nonsense.

Tholen gave a strangled, anguished cry, his eyes clouded with tears as the force of the blow caused Aberland to have to adjust his footing to maintain his hold. He winked at Larkin and gave her an amused little smile, inwardly quite glad that she would still be committed to their plan.

“So your governorship, I think we’ve made it clear that we’re not playing any games. Behave nicely or you’ll continue to get blood splattered on your expensive clothes. Got it?”

Tholen nodded pathetically, still suffering cruelly. Blane looked around for something to restrain the governor with.

“Larkin, could you bring me a lamp from one of the bedside tables?” She unplugged an ornate ceramic lamp and obligingly brought it to him.

“Now pick up the gun that fell on the floor over there, and aim it at Tholen’s head.” She complied, a little reluctantly. Was she actually going to have to fire the thing and kill him? She wasn’t sure that she could trust her skills or lack thereof, though she couldn’t exactly object to the act itself on moral grounds. Rex Tholen was still a despicable man, regardless of the story he’d told. She wouldn’t mind very much at all, she decided.

“Ok, listen closely, you pompous ass. I’m going to let go of your arms briefly while I get my handgun out from under the bed here, which I can assure you can be done in less than a second. So don’t try anything stupid.”

The aforementioned ass nodded again, though he was no longer able to be so careful with keeping his intentions hidden. Perhaps it was the pain. The expression on his face said that he was clearly sizing Larkin up and evaluating his options. Aberland took note as he released him and the governor straightened up but didn’t make a move, apparently thinking better of it. As promised, the muzzle of Aberland’s Mack 10 was quickly pressed against Tholen’s now disheveled blond hair. Aberland took the base of the fancy porcelain lamp in his left hand and smashed it on the desk, causing the other two to jump at the sound. Aberland made eye contact with Larkin and nodded firmly to encourage her to maintain an unwavering focus on guarding Tholen, then tossed his own gun on to the bed and forced the treacherous man to his knees. He pulled Tholen’s arms behind him in one fluid motion, binding them at the wrists with the power cord and finishing by tucking the unevenly broken base in to the waistband of his governorship’s pants so that it dug in to his back a little, eliciting another groan.

“Suffice it to say that when you attempt to extricate yourself, and I’m most certain that you will attempt it, your clothes will become even more sullied with blood. Now, do please take a seat in your expensive leather desk chair here, sir,” Aberland said mockingly.

Tholen stared daggers at Aberland but followed the order. He had no choice. Internally, however, he was already hard at work on determining which of his contacts could best be employed to make the two of them suffer later. All of his carefully laid plans were slowly disintegrating at Aberland’s hands. It was now unlikely that he’d be able to time his departure to coincide with Martin’s rendezvous, as originally planned. He’d have to just do it the messy way. Kill Howell and anyone at the airport, because they’d be the ones that would be most able track him down. But first things first. He’d have to play along with the meddlesome ex-pat and his new girlfriend.

With Tholen tied securely to the chair, Aberland nodded at Larkin, who knew that he obviously wanted her to bring the tablet with them. “Please get the other lamp also,” he added. He picked up his gun and wheeled Tholen out of the room and down the hall, stopping at the linen closet.

Aberland dumped Tholen in to the space under the shelves of the linen closet rather unceremoniously, and he fell with a thud, hitting his head on the wall on his way down.

Aberland leveled his Uzi between his eyes and said in a low voice, “Before you try it, if you even think of yelling for your maid right now I’ll kill you on the spot. You see, you’re not exactly indispensable. We can easily make do without the information you’re about to give me; I’d just rather make you feel a little better about yourself by making you useful. I wouldn’t want you to feel completely debased, your lordship.”

Tholen glared back, the malice transforming his usually composed face. “Well? I’m waiting,” he hissed.

“Larkin, could you stand at the edge of the staircase where you can watch the foyer? We don’t need any complications, like having to disable the maid too.”

She nodded and walked back down the hall, and Aberland rubbed his hands together with pleasure as he turned back to Tholen, virtually alone with his prisoner.

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