Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 4

Andre led them across the threshold in to a grand foyer, whose antiquities intermingled with well-manicured potted plants gave the impression of a colonial palace. In front of them was a stately spiraling marble staircase, with an adjacent formal living area. They silently followed Andre there, presumably to relax prior to their audience with the governor. It was furnished with the finest ornately woven wicker pieces and sumptuous vivid red cushions. An old world wrought iron chandelier hung above them, which could have easily been looted from a decrepit palace somewhere. The side wall was comprised of floor-to-ceiling patio doors and linen curtains, fluttering in a fragrant breeze wafting in from the courtyard. It appeared that the terrace ran the length of the entire house, and Larkin could glimpse more finely crafted chaise lounges, tables and chairs, and large heavy lanterns that could be lit in the evenings.

The estate was clearly an amazing venue for parties and galas. It was the type of residence that could easily be found in Paris, Venice, or the Hamptons, which again caused Larkin to wonder what the real story was here. The governor’s house and the town below were so like two intensely different worlds that neither could possibly belong with the other. They had seen no homes of other wealthy citizens, just a few “middle class” homes clustered around the estate. It was almost like a feudal township. Beyond a doubt, there was definitely more going on than met the eye.

They didn’t have to wait long before a guard entered the airy room, followed by a formidable man who could no doubt be the governor himself. As Rex Tholen breezed in to the room, one easily got the distinct impression that he was directly descended from royalty. His 6-foot frame held a posture that was both regally authoritative and leisurely, like an island king might be. He even bore resemblance to the original Dutch settlers with his sandy blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. His charismatic smile could put anyone at ease, and he employed it as he quickly stepped out from behind his guard to introduce himself, abandoning formality.

“Mr. Hadrian and Miss Larkin Bellamy, correct? Welcome to Tortola. I am, of course, Governor Rex Tholen. I’m pleased that your government has allowed you to pay our humble island a visit,” he announced as though it were an official proclamation in a slight British accent, and strode forward to shake Hadrian’s hand and kiss Larkin lightly on the cheek. Governor Tholen’s gaze came to rest on Andre, and Larkin saw a faint glimmer of acknowledgement in his gray-blue eyes for just a moment. Then they instantly became cold, as though he had turned the light behind his eyes off with an internal switch. Hadrian hadn’t noticed; he was looking the crate over, anxiously realizing that he hadn’t checked it to be sure that his merchandise was still intact after the flight.

Tholen courteously turned to address Andre too. “You must be in Mr. Bellamy’s employ for the duration of his stay in Tortola I presume? Mr. …”

“Andre. Ah, Andre Henley sir. My people are d-down the coast a bit, neah Fat Hogs Bay,” the large man stammered out, tripping a little over his words. He was clearly unaccustomed to being spoken to directly by the governor. In all likelihood he’d never even had the honor of meeting him. Governor Tholen didn’t appear to be the type of magistrate that intermingled with his people very often.

The governor turned his eyes back to Hadrian and Larkin, coolly evaluating them in a slightly disquieting manner. Hadrian was a middle-aged man, stout but not too thick, with a good muscular build to him. He wore a beard that looked as though he vacillated often between sometimes maintaining it and other times not. Larkin by contrast was very petite, with long blonde hair and green eyes, and though she was only 20, she seemed to have the wherewithal to be assessing him too. Larkin was boldly staring back at Tholen. The coldly calculating expression on his face made him appear almost as though he was sizing them up to evaluate what type of threat they could constitute, Larkin thought. She pushed the idea out of her mind. That was silly.

Governor Tholen’s face transformed back in to that of a gracious host.

“Well it’s very nice to be acquainted with you all. Miss Bellamy, if you would excuse us, your father and I have business to attend to.”

Larkin nodded politely. For all his charms, she had an unsettling feeling about the governor. She watched closely as her father and Andre were led up the grand staircase. Her father’s face remained tense and determined, and she knew that a lot hinged on the outcome of this negotiation. He caught her studying him and gave her a little wink before they strode out of sight. Larkin turned her attention back to the empty living area with misgiving. At some point another guard had materialized to stand at the entrance and keep watch over her. She sighed, resenting the implication that she was being babysat and was therefore discouraged from exploring her surroundings. Not that she would have, at least not that much. She dug in to her bag for the map of Tortola that she’d borrowed from her father, settling in to wait patiently for an undetermined amount of time.

Larkin’s thoughts began to wander as she stared out at the courtyard with its lush palms swaying, tropical flowers spilling out of their beds, and a fountain’s crystal water sparkling in the sun. With nothing to do but sit and wait, her mind took the opportunity to force the past 36 hours out of their blurry fuzzy state and in to sharp focus. Up to this point, she hadn’t been processing anything, but rather floating through the events, each more fantastical and strange than the last. Looking back, it felt more like a hazy dream than reality. But now reality was staring her in the face, and the simple truth was that her entire life was now in flux. She could hardly believe that she was sitting in a Caribbean island estate, far away from the prying eyes of her beloved homeland. It was an even greater shock to come to the full realization that she had no clue what the next 24, 48, or 72 hours would hold for them.

Larkin tried to keep herself from panicking. Getting upset right now wouldn’t solve anything; she just had to face the facts and deal with it, and there were only a few concrete plans that they did have in place for her to focus on. Maybe she could expand upon them and distract herself for a while. Her father said that they could go anywhere she wanted after this – where would she choose to go? Paris? London? Vienna? Regrettably, she would be at a disadvantage because foreign language instruction had lapsed in schools due to the sentiment that the American culture is the only culture worth embracing. But she could adapt, she thought. She hoped.

A scuffle and a sharp noise upstairs interrupted her musings, snapping her back to the present. Another loud bang sounded, and Larkin realized frantically that it was gunshots being fired. The guard that had been keeping watch on her was running up the stairs along with two others. Only one remained behind in the shadows of the entry doors, studying her face intently, as though he’d seen her before.

Larkin didn’t notice. Her first instinct was to bolt up the stairs too, her heart hammering in her chest, terrified for her father. She fought against it and tried to force herself to be calm. She was unarmed, so she couldn’t possibly help him, and he wouldn’t want her to foolishly risk her own life too. Not that it mattered to her. Her mind was madly racing through all of the terrible things that could be happening upstairs, and her eyes blurred with tears as she snuck out of the sitting area, trying to find a place in the entry hall where she could watch the staircase unseen and exit quickly if she had to. She found her hiding place in the shadow of a decorative column just before the commotion loudly progressed down the stairs.

Hadrian Bellamy was stumbling, falling backwards down the steps, clutching at his chest to try to stop the bleeding. He had to find Larkin. The whole thing had been a stupid mistake – Rex Tholen’s charm had dissolved instantly behind closed doors. He had verified the nature and quantity of the goods, then mercilessly seized them and shot Hadrian. Now Larkin would surely die too … unless she could escape. Then she’d have a glimmer of a chance.

Larkin had to grip the pillar and cover her mouth to keep herself from screaming and running to him, everything within her fighting herself. Tears were streaming down her face as the scene played out in slow motion for her, her fingernails digging in to the column and her breathing growing ragged with terror. He was staggering down the stairs, blood spreading across his chest, eyes frantically raking the room in search of her. A couple of soldiers were standing on the landing above laughing at him. Hadrian’s eyes found Larkin, and she read his lips as he faintly choked out, “I love you, I’m sorry.” He turned back, grasping the pistol in his jacket pocket, and took out his vengeance on the mocking soldiers. With the all too precise aim of a man who had nothing left to live for, he managed to fire a few shots before landing in the marbled foyer, never to move again.

Larkin’s feet froze; her body was compelled to remain there in the hall, immobile as a statue, memorizing his face as he fell and saying her silent goodbyes. But she choked back her tears and forced herself to leave. As she bolted across the room, lunging for the large patio doors, she looked up one more time at the staircase, her mind already replaying the scene of her dad bravely firing on the jackals. It would be her last memory of him.

Larkin slowed her pace and quietly slipped out on to the terrace, and she heard an enraged voice cry out from the second floor, “The bastard killed two of my men! Find that little daughter of his, I’ll beat her within an inch of her life!” That was all she needed to hear as she took off in a sprint, crossing the courtyard and flying through the back gate.

Within a few minutes the governor’s house became hectic with commotion as frenzied guards reported to their lieutenant, who was trying to keep them focused long enough to take orders.

Meanwhile the soldier who had stayed in the shadows of the doorway was still standing motionless, his face calm and pensive as he watched her flee through the darkened garden. He remembered exactly where he knew her from now. It changed everything.


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