Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 41

Blane had only just stepped in to the fuselage when Larkin collided with him, rushing to give him a hug with tears in her eyes. She realized that once again she’d been terrified for him, not just because he was her ticket out, or because of all that they’d been through together, but because she had come to care about him so deeply. Larkin pulled herself back, and Blane regarded her with surprise and a little affection himself.

“I – I’m just so happy you survived!” she explained, blushing.

Blane raised an eyebrow in amusement. “Survived? I’ve made it through a lot worse than that, y’know.” He stepped back, regarding her quizzically.

Larkin straightened up and tried to look less emotional. She was already back on the defensive. “So what did you do with that guy?”

“What do you think I did?” he asked her with a characteristic sly smile.

Somehow she wasn’t amused. “Well I was asking because I seem to remember that you’re really good at killing people, and I just watched you march that guy away in to the darkness.”

“Okay, okay. I just used his belt to tie him up and left him there, then grabbed the car keys so he couldn’t do anything else to stop us. I told him he has you to thank for that.”

“Me? Why?” she looked bewildered again.

He exhaled slowly, then answered. “Because five days ago I would’ve just killed him without a second thought.” That statement hung in the air for a second.

“Now we’ve got to get going,” he said gruffly, and pushed past her to bring the stairs up and secure the door.

She watched him in silence, mulling that comment over, then followed him in to the cockpit, and dejectedly flopped down next to him in the co-pilot’s chair. Blane picked up the manual from where Larkin had deposited it next to the control panel and thumbed through it. After consulting a few pages, he examined the digital screen in front of him and the engine instruments.

“I checked that the altimeter and directional gyro were set, made sure the auxiliary fuel pump was off, and checked the fuel gauges,” Larkin said proudly. “I didn’t want to let the engine idle because I didn’t know how long you’d be. I didn’t think that we should waste the fuel.”

“Good Larkin, you did just fine. And luckily for us, it looks like your former pilot managed to re-fuel the plane before he was detained by Tholen’s guards. I forgot to check that earlier but it’s nice to know that I don’t have to try to find a way to siphon fuel from one plane to the other, if that one even has any.”

Aberland flipped the light switches on at his elbow and used the throttle to turn the engine on too. After searching for a minute, he pushed the button to prime the engine a couple of times, and checked the digital display again. The mixture was good. That was pretty much all that needed to be done, he figured. He hoped that the last post-flight check had been thorough enough and that he didn’t need to worry about the other steps mentioned in the manual, like verifying the functionality of the landing gear position lights or the auxiliary fuel pump, propeller or flaps. He didn’t have time to figure out how that was done. Finally he turned back to the main display and read the time – 8:27 pm.

“There were two reasons we wanted to leave right at or just before 8:00; do you remember?”

“Right, to be less visible in general but especially because of the helicopter that they sent over for Martin.”

“Exactly. We’re certainly going to be less visible now that it’s completely dark. But that also means that our runway is completely dark. The problem is that by now the extraction team has come and gone, so we have to worry about them seeing us in the air instead. They’re either going back to the mainland or east/northeast to the location of the warship. Regardless, at this point they’re about 100 miles away, so we’re most likely in the clear.”

“So how are we going to take off on a dark runway? Doesn’t that give us a really small chance of actually getting airborne at the right speed to not crash the plane and die?”

Blane rolled his eyes. “That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think? Don’t forget that I’m used to improvising in crazy situations like this.”

“And you’ve always got a plan, is that it?”

“Yeah. Luckily,” he said, producing the car keys from his pocket and dangling them in the air, “we’ve got a way to help illuminate the runway.”

“Okay… so you’re going to drive down the runway to see how long the distance is on the odometer?”

“Well yes, but there’s more to it than that. Since timing is no longer crucial, we can take our sweet time with this and make sure we get it right. We’ll taxi the plane out to the beginning of the nearest runway, which should be that one about 90 yards away. Then I’ll jump out and get the car, drive it to the end of the runway, and note the distance. I’ll park it at the end with the headlights on as a marking point, and we’ll take off.”

“Easy as that, huh?”

“Look, do you have any better ideas? Maybe go back to Parham Town, locate one of the three airport employees, and force them to come turn on the runway lights?”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s like you read my mind or something,” she fired back sarcastically.

“Alright well sit down and buckle up while I get this in motion, unless you’d rather take yourself and your attitude back to the passenger cabin.”

Larkin sat back down in a huff, and Blane carefully pushed the throttle forward to execute a sharp turn and get them on the rudimentary side road to the runway, illuminated by the plane’s taxi lights. Without another word, Blane set the parking brake and gave her a little grin as he left the cockpit and lowered the stairs again.

As she watched him take off at a jog in the darkness, she realized that he’d told her he tied the Lieutenant up in the back of the hanger, which was also where he’d parked the Mercedes. Her throat constricted with anxiety, wondering if the Lieutenant had found a way out of his bindings, and might sneak up on Aberland to attack him in the dark. She waited tensely, wondering if she should leave the plane so that she could listen for sounds of a struggle.

But thankfully after a couple of minutes, the faint sound of an engine could be heard even in the cockpit and she glimpsed the vehicle’s headlights bouncing off of the old tin warehouse walls as they came towards her. Still she couldn’t afford to let her guard down, at least about anything other than Blane Aberland (who was only an exception because she’d already failed at it). It could be the Lieutenant coming for her, and at this thought, she rushed back to the cabin and took her pistol out of her tattered resemblance of a handbag in the cabin, and flicked the safety off as she made her way back up the luxurious carpet-lined aisle. She camped out next to the partition, giving herself a view of the boarding stairs and cover if necessary.

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