Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 2

Hadrian and Joe had agreed that loading suitcases in to a town car before sunrise on his carefully watched street was impossibly idiotic, even if it were common knowledge that he was leaving town on business. So Hadrian carefully stowed the cigars and their two small suitcases in his own car instead in the garage that morning. Larkin had been surprisingly good at packing light for a teenager, and he was grateful to avoid an argument. She hadn’t really spoken to him since their talk in the woods, but then, she couldn’t openly discuss the matter either. He could tell that even though she was silent, she wasn’t furious. Perhaps he hadn’t given her enough credit after all.

They met his parents for dinner the night before, which he figured wasn’t too suspicious, but a struggle nonetheless. It was difficult for both of them – Hadrian and Larkin wanted to make the most of every moment and properly say their goodbyes, but knew they couldn’t outright. Instead they tried to draw the evening out much longer than usual, and lingered a little too long in hugging goodbye. Hadrian’s parents left their dinner with a confusingly vague sense that something was wrong, but each was too unsure of it individually to discuss it with the other.

Then there was Mrs. Bellamy. Hadrian wondered whether it was better or worse to have no grave of his wife’s to visit before they left. There had been nothing to bury, only memories to say goodbye to. Even after twelve years, part of him still wondered if she’d walk back through the door one day, back in to their lives as though she’d never been absent at all. He’d played the scene out in his dreams a thousand times. It was that part of him that was railing against the whole process, arguing with him at every step of the way in the back of his head, telling him that she could come back, would come back – to an empty house and a family that had abandoned her. That had almost been more difficult for him to face than the prospect of uprooting Larkin and disrupting her life. In the end he had to level with the idea that in time, it might (however unlikely) unfold that way, but the remote possibility of her return couldn’t hold him back. Larkin was his first and only priority for the time being and he couldn’t risk their safety for the rare twist of fate that could bring his wife back to them. If they stayed, in all likelihood he wouldn’t be there to welcome her home anyway. He would be the one that the government would make disappear next.

Larkin had spent the remainder of the previous day oscillating between resentment and some sort of detached grief. She wandered through their beautiful old New England colonial home, silently trying to engrain special photographs, trinkets, and spaces in to her memory, almost as though she were mourning a loss. But she mostly wondered what the hell her dad was doing that was so intensely dangerous. She speculated and theorized to herself, reviewing the past few years for clues. Her first instinct, firmly instilled by the paranoid society that she’d grown up in, was that he was a spy for either the United States or the Socialists. But that wasn’t a possibility; he disagreed too strongly with each side. He never snuck around or acted strangely around her. He just couldn’t be mixed up in anything terribly covert.

In the end she could arrive at no plausible conclusion, and decided that it could only be related to the business deal that he made years ago. She admitted inwardly that she didn’t have much insight in to the business world, however town cars and fancy dinners seemed a little excessive for cigar advertising. Then again, the other adults in the neighborhood hadn’t seemed remotely suspicious (on the surface at least), only congratulatory, which is what had set her mind at ease about the matter in the first place.

Whatever the grand plan, her father was pretty nervous as they left the house and drove to the New Bedford Regional Airport, though he was trying hard to hide it. Noting this all but put her in a state of panic; her dad was rarely afraid of anything. She steeled herself in spite of it, knowing that putting on a good act to get through security and leave the country was their only way out.

They pulled up to one of the private hangers, which looked like a large empty warehouse building (with the exception of the private plane in it) to Larkin. She caught herself naively staring wide-eyed around at her surroundings, then composed herself. Those days few people even saw the inside of a private hanger, or even an airplane at all, since getting approval for flying was a difficult and rarely fruitful process. As he parked the car, Hadrian removed a couple of phony VIP Prima Cigars International badges from his glove box for them to wear and passed one to Larkin. They weren’t a necessity, but it made the premise more convincing. They were warily exiting the vehicle when a friendly valet pulled up with a cart for their cargo and luggage, giving Hadrian a subtle wink as he loaded. Joe had promised to grease as many palms as possible, and the valet had been tasked with doing a very brief and un-thorough security check before stowing their items in the private plane.

Joe had briefed Hadrian on what to expect from the process the week before, since neither he or his daughter had flown on a private charter before. Since it was an international flight, they had been required to file a flight plan with the International Civil Aviation Organization, and have a TSA agent meet them at the gate. Thankfully the flight regulations hadn’t changed when it came to going through customs – they were required only on the return flight rather than both ways, which meant that they didn’t have anything to worry about since they didn’t plan on returning.

Hadrian and Larkin walked up to the impatient TSA agent and bravely presented their IDs and documents, which were dubiously examined and re-examined. Hadrian was caught by surprise at this development, but he carefully kept his expression neutral. Inside he was furious at Joe for not taking care of the most important security aspect of their travels. Holding his breath, he looked steadily at the agent, who had been glancing between Hadrian’s face and his papers for several seconds now. With an unhappy frown, as though he’d been looking forward to denying their flight out of the country, he unceremoniously shoved Hadrian Bellamy’s documents at him, and turned to Larkin. She too put on a brave face and after a moment’s scrutiny, her documents were returned as well. They tried not to smile with relief as they were escorted to board the plane. So far so good.

Taking their seats in the luxurious Cessna Citation, Larkin was having an internal struggle between elation at the idea of safely fleeing the country and dismay at her surroundings, which basically put her on a teenage cloud nine for the moment. As she took in every opulent detail, from the plush carpet to the wood grain inlay on their personal tables, her eyes came to rest on the seat across from her where her father sat and wondered what he was involved in for about the hundredth time.

The propellers spurred to life and hummed beside them, and the plane began to taxi out to the runway. She vaguely remembered the inconvenience of travelling by plane – endless security lines, waiting for other passengers, walk-throughs to ensure that carry-ons are properly stowed, lengthy safety procedure explanations. When flying on a private plane, apparently none of that is necessary. You just take off. She’d only ever flown once before, on a commercial plane for their family vacation to Disneyworld when she was 8. Her memory of the flight wasn’t terribly distinct, but she decided that regardless, she liked this much better as she sank further in to her plush seat, propping her feet up. They were soon safely in the air, though Hadrian didn’t let his guard down, remaining cognizant that they could turn the plane around at any time. He hoped that Larkin realized this too. He’d breathe easier once they were on the last leg of their 14-hour trip, much closer to their destination than the continental United States.

He had prepared some materials to get Larkin more excited about the trip, and hopefully distract the two of them from their anxiety. After the initial ascent, he pulled some glossy prints out of a folder in his carry-on and leaned over to show her.

“This is Tortola, where we’re going first. It’s the largest island of the British Virgin Isles. These pictures are about fifty years old, from before the ah … conflict, but you can see that there used to be a beautiful governor’s palace there once. We’ll have to do some exploring and see if it’s still there,” he nudged her, smiling.

She gave a little smile back. Even though she was petite and not very hardy, she was a tomboy at heart. Exploring was something that she and her dad used to love to do together. Before it was considered suspicious.

“We’re going to Tortola first mainly to sell about half of our cigars, because they don’t really have access to luxuries like that,” he continued. “From there we go to the Dominican Republic, where we’ll sell the rest of our stock. They’ve long had cigars there, but not the varieties that we have access to in the United States, so we should be pretty popular guests. Then we also need to buy a large amount to bring back to New England. Grupo León Jimenes has been making cigars in that area for hundreds of years and they have huge factories there, so we’ll also need to make sure that they’re still as operational as they once were. Last, if the Caribbean is as good a marketplace as it seems, we might head down to Barbados if we have time. But we have to careful; we can’t be sure how well the locals will receive Americans in some of these places. It could be dangerous,” he added, looking at her sharply. The caution in his sky blue eyes told Larkin everything she needed to know.

This all seemed a little rehearsed, thought the co-pilot and acting flight attendant as she prepared their lunch. She’d been skeptical when her contact had tasked her with monitoring them; their applications seemed innocent enough. Initially it had been a red flag that a man going on business to the Caribbean wanted to bring his 20 year old daughter along (Paris perhaps, but the Caribbean? Not likely). However, he had candidly written in that her mother had left them and she was very close to her dad, and was interested in the state of the islanders’ health since she was studying to be a doctor. Moreover, they had retained a bodyguard at their destination for her protection. It was a little questionable, but it seemed to make sense, on the surface anyway.

‘All this for cigars?’ had been everyone’s initial reaction in the Secured Clearance Department, but one of the field agents vouched that Prima Cigars International was one of two major world players in the industry. If anyone was going to take the cigar business seriously enough to send a representative to the Caribbean market, it was Prima.

So there they were, headed to Tortola. The co-pilot was watching them like a hawk for any definitive indication of illegal activity. Only then could she enter the cockpit and request that the captain radio back for approval to return to America. So far all that she had was the slightest of hunches.

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