Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 36

Hiding behind a wall at the top of the stairs, Blane motioned for Larkin to follow him back to the normally sealed room. If the maid came upstairs, she would naturally assume that Governor Tholen was still working in privacy there and not disturb them, as long as they weren’t too loud.

Blane had barely shut and locked the door behind her when Larkin wheeled and demanded, “Did you kill him? I heard the silencer in the hall.”

He turned reluctantly to face her. They didn’t need to argue right now, there was too much work to be done. “No. We need him alive, for now anyway. Does it matter?”

She didn’t acknowledge the response and flopped down on the bed unhappily. She was actually disappointed at the news, Blane realized. A few days of surviving in the wild and her polished American girl persona with all its ethics and morals had flown out the window, alright. Though having your dad shot would certainly contribute too.

“I will kill him if I get another opportunity tonight, Larkin. And of course I would’ve killed him today if I could have. But he’ll be useful to us for now. Here’s what I’m thinking – “

Blane proceeded to outline the last three hours that they would be spending in Tortola. Howell isn’t an idiot, he postulated, and after the way that Tholen left his house in a rush (realizing that I was here, up to something), he’ll come to investigate. So why not kill two birds with one stone? Blane could throw some water on his face, adjust his uniform, and go downstairs dressed as a guard to deliver a note to the maid, to be given to Lieutenant Howell upon his arrival.

The note would essentially explain that Tholen left hurriedly because he remembered that he had a transmission to intercept from the Americans to the US military headquarters. The military would be sending in a helicopter to pick up the last remaining agent near the ruins of Ft. Charlotte outside of Road Town at 8:00. He was to get a special team together to investigate and possibly detain the agent. Moreover, Tholen would not be making an appearance at the party because he had further preparations to make.

If all went according to plan, Howell would arrive, receive the message, and hurry off to follow its instructions. The two could then take one of Tholen’s cars to the airport, deal with the pilot, and then simply wait until the diversion at 8:00 to depart under the cover of darkness.

“What do you think?” Blane grinned at Larkin, obviously proud of the scheme that he’d devised.

“Overall I like it, but does Howell know that Tholen uses this room to listen to and decipher encrypted communications between the agents and the US?”

“Hmm, that’s a good point. I don’t think that he does.”

“So would the note actually explain that or gloss over it instead?”

“Well, if the call can’t be cited as the way he knows that a helicopter is coming, because it would require too much explanation, what would we say instead? We can’t say that a guard was coming to report some information to him outside of Howell’s knowledge; that’s unlikely and suspicious.”

“What about an email? He could be rushing back because he was expecting an important email from a “friend,” and then learned the details, etc.”

Blane thought through this suggestion, rubbing his chin absent-mindedly.

“You know, if you do that all the time while you’re thinking, you’ll clog the pores on your chin. You may even mess up your ability to grow facial hair easily,” she teased.

“Huh?” Blane came out of his deep thought. “Oh. Are you done lecturing yet? Geez, you’re just like my mother.” He gave her a playful shove.

“Anyway, yeah, I think that’s the best option. Let’s get to Tholen’s office and get this note written quickly, before Howell gets here.”

Blane unconsciously slipped back in to stealth mode again as they left the room, keeping Larkin behind him as he checked the hallway and foyer for signs of the maid or anyone else before motioning for her to proceed. It was obviously necessary given the situation, but it brought an amused smirk to Larkin’s face nonetheless.

At the linen closet they paused briefly, listening to determine whether Tholen would attempt to alert anyone in the hall to his presence. Either all of the measures that Aberland had taken to muffle sound were highly effective, or Tholen wasn’t trying, or was unconscious. Satisfied, they quickly moved on.

They arrived at Tholen’s elegant office, and Blane headed straight for the marble desk while Larkin closed the door discreetly behind them. He pulled a thick sheet of stationary from a drawer and a pen and sat down to attempt to mimic the governor’s handwriting on the spot.

Larkin observed this for a few seconds, then pointed out, “Since Tholen was already on his tablet to check an email, he could also have typed the note and printed it out since it would be convenient, right?”

“…I guess. It’s still kind of suspicious, but we don’t have many options right now. That’s probably best.”

She set the tablet that she’d been toting around with her down on the desk, which Blane quickly opened and improvised the note as they’d planned.

Lt. Howell –

I’m certain that my haste in leaving has raised your suspicions, and rightfully so. I realized in that moment that I needed to hurry back to the estate, where I’d been awaiting an extremely important email from a contact promising much-needed intelligence. I have learned that another United States agent was stationed here on Tortola along with Blane Aberland, and the US military is sending a helicopter to collect him this evening at Ft. Charlotte, just outside of Road Town at 8 pm. I want a special team of guards put together to investigate and detain the agent if possible.

I will not be making an appearance at tonight’s celebration after all. I now have additional preparations to see to after receiving further information from said communication. Hence this note is to serve in place of my assurance to you of these events in person.

Please enjoy the festivities tonight, and I will meet with you at a later time to discuss these developments further.

– Governor Rex E. Tholen

Blane printed it hastily and handed it to Larkin to read over, while he got up and crossed the room to straighten his guard’s uniform in the large gilded mirror on the wall, positioned so that Tholen could check his reflection while seated at the desk. What a pompous ass.

“Looks good,” Larkin remarked, returning it to Aberland. He folded it in to thirds with sharp meticulous creases the way he imagined that his governorship might.

“Okay, wait for me at the top of the stairs, where you were on the look out before.”

She nodded, and the two walked briskly out of the room, with Larkin falling back in to position at the determined point and Aberland continuing down the stairs with a newly assumed self-important air. He scanned the foyer, then went to the double front doors and slammed one loudly, stomping through the entryway, so that the sound of his footsteps was amplified in the hall.

As if on cue, the maid timidly appeared from the kitchen, looking around to verify whether anyone else besides her was downstairs to attend to the noisy, unannounced visitor. No other household staff seemed to be present, so she bustled nervously down the hall and found the guard waiting.

“C-can I help you?” she asked, surprised.

“Yes, as a matter of fact you can. Governor Tholen has given me this message, and instructed that it be delivered to Lieutenant Howell when he arrives here shortly. The Governor is very busy and doesn’t want to be bothered. Will you wait for the Lieutenant here and follow the Governor’s orders? It’s important that he is not disturbed.”

This was a little unorthodox, but of course she’d follow the Governor’s orders. She wished, however, that the house manager were there to handle it. He’d be much more comfortable with the request, while she was terribly nervous that somehow something might go awry.

“Yes, I’ll do it.”

“Good,” he said, handing her the paper. “It is not to be read,” he added firmly as he hurried back up the stairs to maintain the impression that he was needed to assist the governor further.

Blane met Larkin at the top of the stairs once more, gently pushing her behind him so that she remained safely out of sight. His posture automatically shifted to be protective of her, ready to react if needed with one hand on the gun in his holster, just barely peering around the corner. It was like watching an action movie in person, and though their situation was very serious, Larkin just found it funny instead.

The maid could be seen obediently waiting for Howell’s arrival in the foyer, fidgeting with her hair nervously. It didn’t take long for the Lieutenant to confirm Aberland’s hypothesis that he’d be coming over to check up on Tholen. After a little more than 5 minutes he opened the front door and entered warily, not sure what to expect. He was instead surprised to find the maid waiting for him, of all people. Aberland looked back at Larkin’s silent questioning expression and gave a slight reassuring nod, then slid back a little more out of sight, hardly visible at all now.

Larkin’s heart was hammering in her chest with anxiety. She realized that if they’d spent a few minutes more of deliberation or complications with Tholen, they would have been in real trouble with Howell arriving to snoop around when he did. Normally that fact would have freaked her out a lot more than this, but things were different now. Who knew how she might be handling everything without the adrenaline rush that had kicked in when they had to confront Tholen earlier? Come to think of it, who could say how she would have handled it if she hadn’t been through the insane events that had taken place over these past 4 days? She felt as though she’d been forced in to growing up in less than a week. However her introspection was interrupted by the maid’s nervous voice mumbling downstairs, which brought her quickly back to the present as she realized that she was missing out on the action.

“Gov’nah Tholen wanted you to have this, sir,” she managed to say. She was paid to clean and be quiet, and remain practically invisible while she was doing it. Tholen told her so himself in that mildly threatening way that he had of bossing everyone around. This was entirely outside of her job description.

Howell frowned, and quickly scanned the lines on the page. Perplexed, he looked up at the maid, who was practically wringing her hands, then lowered his eyes to read through it a second time. There was something that felt a little odd about it, but whether it was the tone or the message itself he couldn’t say for sure.

Still, it seemed to be in keeping with the plan that they had discussed earlier. He folded the paper silently, deepening the creases between his fingernails as he mentally reviewed the next few hours’ itinerary.

The note indicated that the governor had in fact confirmed the time and location of the agent’s rendezvous, and Howell already had four of the most gossip-prone and inept guards in mind for the job. He’d go to the party, make a toast, and give the group their orders, which would hopefully be drunkenly shared with others. If it wasn’t, he’d make sure that word got around. He would then return to the villa, from which he and Tholen would drive to the airport to depart. They had decided that it didn’t really matter that his pilot’s license had expired. He still remembered how to fly the small passenger plane, and Tholen had enough cash to grease palms anywhere that they needed to go.

Yes, these new details were all basically harmonious with the plan. Howell distractedly thanked the maid as he exited through the double doors, unaware that his fellow employee was already scurrying away, hoping to avoid a lecture from the house manager later. Howell needed to stop by his house and pack his attaché with his passport and other essential documents, an extra shirt, and maybe another gun or two. As he turned to close the heavy ornate door behind him, his eyes glanced fleetingly upstairs, wondering what new development Tholen was working on. On the dais at the top of the stairs, Agent Aberland silently moved back an inch, out of sight. Howell returned his focus to the task at hand and walked briskly out the front door.


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