Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 3

Morning, Day 1

Out of all of the lush, tropical islands in the Caribbean, Tortola was rarely thought of as a dream destination, if it was thought of at all. One of several small and lesser-known mountainous isles in the British Virgin Island chain, it is only about 14 miles long and 3 miles wide. Most Americans had never even heard of it. But this enchanting little place seemed to be the perfect backdrop for their adventures – it had an exciting and dangerous past of its own. Famed pirates like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd were its most notorious settlers, and Tortola’s numerous coves and inlets had continued to host many pirates throughout history.

Before being overtaken by the Socialist movement and then hastily abandoned, Road Town had been the largest city with just under 10,000 inhabitants. Several international offshore companies occupied the island, offering financial services and plenty of discretion for a nominal fee. These companies largely depended upon their solid reputations to garner business, and as such they were quick to de-camp when the US mobilized Navy destroyers and frigates to police the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. They could not afford to have such a highly visible blot on their records. Nowadays the islanders led a simple life, still free from the commercial world, mainly fishing and trading with nearby islands. So it would seem, anyway.

According to Joe’s sources, the re-colonization was focused more to the northeast of the island along one of its spectacular beaches – one of them aptly named Smuggler’s Cove. The rest of the island, however, was largely unoccupied and hadn’t been exposed to humans in a very long time. The center of Tortola was marked by the island’s tallest point, Mount Sage. The southern two thirds of the island were simply forest and beaches, and Road Town was slowly crumbling away with no residents to maintain it except the native reptiles and insects. Their luxurious private charter plane would be landing at the Rex Tholen Airport, re-named for the newest governor, located on Beef Island just to the East. The old stately bridge connecting the two had luckily survived the test of time, though it was in a sorry state of decay.

After attempting to sleep restlessly during the 14-hour flight, the two passengers awoke to the captain announcing their descent on the intercom. They blearily exchanged a tense glance, then quickly looked away, busying themselves with double-checking their travel documents and re-organizing carry-on bags. The co-pilot had remained in the cabin for most of the flight, monitoring the father and daughter’s activities. As she moved down the aisle to return to the cockpit, she carefully watched their anxious fidgeting with a frown. This wasn’t exactly abnormal; after all, she knew from their documents that neither had ever left the country before. It was natural to be a little nervous. Still, she had that little feeling … but nothing more. Once the plane had landed, she would have to report back that they had found no substantiated grounds to return. But she couldn’t help but wonder whether the US was letting a couple of criminals slip through their fingers, never to return again.

§

These days there were few arrivals and fewer departures at Rex Tholen Airport. They never received any visitors from Latin American countries, and few other Caribbean nations had even acquired their own planes, or the desire to do anything but lay low. The drug lords seemed to be focused on larger islands for the time being. So the airport was generally staffed on an “as needed” basis. All 5 part-time employees stood at the ready to receive the sleek private plane from New England, which were probably more than necessary, but no one wanted to miss it. It was the first plane from the United States in many many years.

As the plane taxied to the hanger, Hadrian could see the car that Governor Tholen had sent waiting to meet them, accompanied by a large, stout man who could only be their bodyguard. That is, he was the only tall, muscular, serious-looking man in the vicinity, so it was a safe assumption. Hadrian tried to breathe a little easier and calm his nerves. Everything had proceeded according to plan so far, he reminded himself. For the most part. Still, he’d feel much better when all of their cargo was safely transferred to the vehicle and they were on the road, away from what little security this airport had, feeble though it undoubtedly was.

It turned out that Hadrian didn’t need to be preoccupied about this phase of his trip at all. They de-planed without incident and were greeted profusely by the airport staff, who thought that Mr. Bellamy and his lovely daughter must be visiting dignitaries of some sort. The bodyguard stepped forward and introduced himself simply as Andre, and ushered them to the car under the unabashed stares of the islanders. Hadrian and Larkin waited tensely as their luggage and goods were transferred from the underbelly of the plane to the trunk, and with that done, Andre managed to somehow fit his large frame in to the simple, older model sedan and started the engine with a low rumble.

Hadrian tried not to exhale too audibly, his sigh of relief practically palpable to his backseat companion as they drove down the palm tree-lined road and soon reached the small bridge to connect to Tortola. Larkin was busy bemusedly watching Andre in the rear-view mirror, who apparently hadn’t noticed the attention. He seemed to be struggling with wanting to start up a friendly conversation, but also didn’t want to overstep his boundaries as a hired bodyguard, which he took very seriously. It appeared to Larkin that he must be a native of the island, for he had the lighter golden brown skin of an African slave that had mixed with Dutch or British colonists at some point back in the family line. She watched as he made up his mind, setting his face in a stony, focused expression. Not wanting to cause Andre more moral conflict, she turned to her father and observed to her relief that he was now more relaxed than she’d seen him in months. She allowed herself to relax too, finally feeling more reassured about their precarious undertaking.

Hadrian pulled out his map to show Larkin that they were now riding towards East End Bay, where Parham Town is located.

“Originally,” he said, catching her eye and making a face that meant ‘I don’t want to say it but – before the Socialist movement.’ “Road Town was the bigger settlement of the two, here by Road Harbour, closer to the center of the island. Now everyone lives up here in Parham Town. And down to the South is Sage Mountain.” Larkin scrutinized the map for a moment, then looked up at the face in the rear-view mirror again. Andre was obviously listening closely.

“Andre, besides a few locals, does anyone really live in the middle or southern part of the island anymore?” Larkin asked, trying to engage him.

He seemed troubled by being addressed directly, but replied in what sounded like an island Creole accent.

“No, we are all in Parham Town. Road Town is abandoned; the old houses are falling down. Deh’s only around 2000 people heah now, more or less.”

Larkin scrutinized her father’s map again, thoughtful. She wondered how much their public services had been re-established upon their return to the island. Did they have a hospital, or at least a doctor? What sort of medical training did they have? She could even write a college thesis later if she gathered enough information on the trip, and interviewed some of the islanders. But that was for another day. Her father told her that they were proceeding straight to the governor’s house, where they would have dinner and discuss business. It was clear that she was expected to be seen and not heard for this official tête-à-tête.

They were getting closer to their destination, and as they continued their leisurely drive through town, the scene that met their eyes was quite alarming to the Americans. The recently re-established Parham Town was undoubtedly a mere shadow of its former self, and the new residents had been forced to attempt to repurpose the abandoned homes there. The result was buildings sloppily thatched over with some type of muddy sand mixture and large palm leaves to prevent leaks. This more impoverished state was dramatically different compared to the lifestyle that the Bellamys were accustomed to. Still, for all of their apparent hardship, the faces of the curious villagers peering back at them as they passed were happy and carefree. It was clearly a simple life that they enjoyed here.

The car slowed as they approached the largest house that they’d seen by far, situated on a hilly rise with a guard on either side of its gated entrance, practically devouring the humble township. Andre pulled up to the gate and spoke in a low voice with the guard. “Your passports please,” the guard said briskly to the visitors. They obliged, and after looking the documentation over with a scrupulous eye, he returned them and gave a curt nod. The opposite guard pulled open the heavy old wrought iron gate, allowing them to enter.

Through a canopy of lush palms, the visitors could see a gorgeous two-story Spanish-style home rising ahead of them. The sun was glancing off the terra cotta tiles, enhancing its yellow stucco walls and causing the white trim around the windows to practically glitter. As they pulled in to the circular drive, Hadrian and Larkin were both struck by the tropical beauty of the governor’s home. The gardens cushioning the main house as well as the surrounding landscape were overflowing with vibrant hibiscus, lilies, and many other flowers that they couldn’t name. A large fountain and statuette were placed at the center of the roundabout, and a grand white staircase led up to arched double doors, covered in elaborate wrought iron scrollwork. Another pair of guards flanked the entry doors. The whole place was an intensely drastic juxtaposition to the simple village, and it was clear that the few state funds they could muster went directly to the governor’s coffers and supported an extravagant life of luxury.

Hadrian was suspicious. Surely their only source of meager income came from what little trade they could foster with other islands. Tortola was detached from the Socialistas, and therefore not supported by any other nation, at least not to public knowledge. Where had all this opulence come from? His instinct that there was more going on here than met the eye continued to grow stronger. Were they still aligned with ESU after all? Even if that were true, the movement couldn’t spare money for the frivolities of an obscure Caribbean island governor with no military prowess to offer in return. No, the Socialists would have no legitimate interest in sustaining this tiny island; it was completely useless to their cause. It had to be drugs, Hadrian decided. It was the only explanation.

This conclusion made him both hopeful and nervous. On the one hand, he could offer a coveted supply to an existing infrastructure for drug running – he’d be guaranteed to sell the whole cargo for any price he named. On the other, drug lords were ruthless and dangerous outlaws, considered modern-day pirates in these parts especially. He glanced worriedly at Larkin, who was still enjoying the scenery, but the quizzical expression on her face said that she was probably questioning the disparity too. Smart girl. Hadrian was glad that Joe had secured Andre for them. Which reminded him of a detail that had been overlooked.

“Andre? My contact told me that in addition to providing your services, you’d have a handgun for me.”

Andre once again looked nervous. “You are right Mr. Bellamy, I forgot.”

He reached in to the glove compartment and produced the latest Colt 1911, freshly cleaned and polished. Hadrian recognized it immediately; he had heard the guys at the shooting range talk about it.

He had expected a half-rusted antique. It was another warning sign – the citizens of this tiny island should have no legitimate access to or even a desire to have shiny new guns on hand. He stroked his chin, mulling it over. It has to be drugs, Hadrian decided. Why else would they have new firearms at their disposal?

Andre parked the car and came around to open the passenger door for Hadrian and Larkin. At Hadrian’s request he unloaded a single crate from the trunk, and led them up the staircase to the main entry. Larkin looked up at her dad’s serious face; she could tell he was tense and anxious again. She lightly plucked the map from his loose fingers, to have something to occupy herself while the men discussed their business. He didn’t even notice. She had a feeling that everything would be much better once this visit was concluded. Noticing the bulge of the handgun stowed in her dad’s inner jacket pocket, she hoped that it was soon.

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