Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 35

Tholen was actually beginning to look nervous for the first time as he stared up at the loathed agent, uncertain of his fate. Aberland considered it an accomplishment not only to elicit that reaction, but to seem him reveal it as well. He leaned over so that he was at eye level with Tholen.

“Well, sir, I’m sure that you’ve already figured out that I don’t really need you. You’re a smart man after all. Maybe you can ingratiate yourself and avoid getting killed right now. Am I speaking your language?”

He was met with a begrudging nod.

“Great. I’m guessing that you’ve dismissed non-essential personnel from the posts at the airport so that they can enjoy the festivities while you sneak away, right?”

He got another nod.

“So who is left?”

“Just the pilot,” Tholen muttered.

“Wonderful. I take it Howell will be at the party all night, enjoying the festivities?”

“Yes.”

“Last question. Is anyone supposed to escort you to the party?”

“Not under my orders. I left Howell’s house a little abruptly, so he might send a guard to check up on me. There’s no telling.”

Aberland pondered this for a moment, then selected a washcloth from one of the linen closet shelves and stuffed it in Tholen’s mouth unceremoniously, before he had time to react or cry out.

“Thanks for the cooperation just now, not that I completely believe you. I’m sure there’s a trap built in there somewhere, but we can handle it. You’ve been a complete asshole, and I can’t say that I expected any less from you. I’m going to use you as my own little distraction, so I won’t kill you just yet. But trust me, if you try to come after us, it will be the last cocky idiotic decision you’ll ever make. In the meantime, here’s a little insurance for us renegades.”

Without another word, Aberland cocked his pistol with the silencer on it and lowered it to shoot Tholen square in the knee. Down the hall Larkin looked up from her vigil at the sound of Tholen’s muffled groans and the pressurized click that she now knew to be a silencer. Aberland went to the office and returned with a roll of packing tape. He opened the linen closet again and taped the washcloth intact several times over, then took a large towel and put it over his head, and taped it down around his neck and shoulders. It would not only serve to muffle Tholen’s strangled shouts even further, but become another obstacle to him somehow getting loose from his bonds. And with any luck, cause death by suffocation eventually.

Aberland rejoined Larkin at the edge of the staircase, scanning the foyer for any sign that the maid had heard him disabling Tholen. It appeared that she had not. He shifted his gaze to the massive clock over the fireplace. It was 5:44 pm. Time to finalize their plans.

§

Lieutenant Howell had been just as perplexed as his guards when Governor Tholen rushed out of the house in mid-sentence. Looking back, he didn’t think that he’d ever seen Tholen hurry anywhere. After watching Tholen speed back to his villa through the open door, he turned to the waiting guards and sent them home with a flimsy explanation, but it was good enough for them.

Howell stood at the window and watched them both meander towards the village. They didn’t seem to care about their employer’s eccentric behavior, they were just glad to finally be off duty and get to relax at home. He wished that he could enjoy the same comfort, but dutifully turned instead and retraced his steps to the living room, sitting down on the sofa to reflect upon what has just transpired.

His first reaction was that he needed to get dressed again and follow Tholen back to the villa to figure out what was really going on. He knew, however, that Rex Tholen was an extremely private man, and had strict orders regarding who was qualified to disturb him and under which circumstances. After all, he had a room that was completely sealed off from everyone, kept under lock and key, even from his personal head of security of all people.

So if he wanted help he would have commanded it, that was a fact. ‘Lord knows that when he wants someone to do something, he makes it known,’ thought Howell.

He decided therefore, somewhat uncertainly, to compromise with himself and wait an hour before going up to the grand estate house. Maybe he would receive more clarifying orders in the interim. But for now he would get dressed quickly, just in case.

§

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