Cruel Paradise

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Chapter 7

If it had been just a few hours earlier, the muted sunlight inside the old house might have revealed the sloppily concealed fingerprints on the banister and footprints in the dust on the staircase. Larkin’s careful search of the grounds would not have been in vain, and she would’ve been alerted to the much bigger problem that she was walking in to, and made a very different choice.

Upstairs in the master bedroom, two American agents sat glued to their surveillance camera video feed, wondering nervously how this new development was going to play out. They saw a panicked girl emerge from the woods to explore the estate, holding a handgun so comically wrong that she’d fire in to the ceiling if she had to shoot. Of all the people that they were prepared to find on the premises, she was certainly the last. However as the realization that they had a breach of security sunk in, they began to feel a little less amused about it.

Without a word, they rapidly started querying their databases to determine who their mystery girl could be. When the island had been re-inhabited, the United States military sent them to keep an eye on any suspicious activity in the largest of the British Virgin Islands. It had proven to be an easy job, as Governor Tholen’s drug trade was the only noteworthy occurrence, which wasn’t a major concern to the State, but more importantly, no one had ever come close to disturbing their base in the old governor’s home. Perhaps they had become too comfortable. And now this wild-eyed girl carrying several firearms with her had stumbled upon it and was methodically searching through the buildings one by one. Who was she and what was her motive??

Her clothes were dirty and torn; she had obviously been on the run in the forest. They typed furiously. Petite and slender, likely 110 lbs. or so, 5’2”, blond shoulder-length hair, green eyes. She didn’t match any citizens from Tortola or the nearby islands. Could she be associated with the private plane that landed that morning? They had overheard discussion about an incoming American visitor from their wiretaps in Rex Tholen’s house weeks ago and checked up on it. However, at that time the flight log only listed Hadrian Bellamy, long-suspected subversive drug runner. Then again, the regulatory agency through which flight plans were filed, the International Civil Aviation Organization, was notoriously bad at getting any last minute changes to them in a timely fashion. Too much red tape. They learned from mainland control earlier that afternoon that the co-pilot informant had not found any conclusive evidence to detain the passenger. And she had mentioned nothing about a girl.

Frowning, the thicker set agent picked up their secured cell phone and placed a call to US Customs. After a few words he slammed the phone down with a curse. Her name was Larkin Bellamy, 20 years old, and she had joined her father on the flight at the last minute. The drug deal must’ve gone bad with Rex Tholen for her to be crashing through the woods alone like a frightened deer. Not terribly surprising – after all, Tholen was a snake.

The pair exchanged a concerned look as she climbed the stairs. There wasn’t any protocol for eliminating a random teenage American girl that might discover them. At least, no protocol that was more humane than just killing her and burying the body in the woods somewhere. She had nearly come close enough to force their hand when she gave up her search and collapsed in one of the bedrooms down the hall.

Hopefully their field agent could fill in the story for them and shed more light on the day’s events at Governor Tholen’s home. He’d be arriving the following day as scheduled to check in, and they felt pretty confident that Miss Bellamy would stay asleep until then. Though neither would admit it, they’d both feel much more at ease when their commanding officer joined them. But there was no need to raise suspicion at the mansion and call him away from the guard assignment early. Nonetheless, one of them contacted the CO and instructed him on his earpiece to be silent when entering the estate so as not to disturb their new houseguest.

Sunset, Day 2

Agent Blane Aberland set out for the Road Town hideout at sunset the following day as usual. It had been an eventful two days of combing the coast of Parham Town and the airport with his comrades, but he’d been itching to get away the entire time. It was the most action that any of them had seen since entering the governor’s employ, and it went right to their heads, like a bunch of immature teenagers playing paintball. And for skilled agents like Aberland, there was nothing worse than stupid cocky wannabes that he knew he could crush like bugs in a split second.

Shortly after signing on with Tholen, each of the guards had quickly learned the truth about the long-suspected source of the governor’s large income and his need for so much security. It was pretty obvious. Not a one could deny daydreaming of shootouts and sting operations against fellow drug lords, but these never came to fruition. Rex Tholen was charming and ruthless; he negotiated his deals and any tension that arose with ease. Consequently he had yet to have a deal go bad, bad enough for anyone to come after him that is. So after a guard’s first six months, they usually fell in to a jaded lazy state, which generally suited them anyway.

But now the entire island was buzzing with excitement. It was all anyone could talk about and the real story rapidly evolved in to some larger-than-life cowboy shoot-out scene, with seven guards dying (even though Bellamy’s handgun had eight rounds, and only two deaths.) They each wanted to be the guard to find the girl and go down in island history as a hero. They all seemed to forget that it was highly likely that the fugitive’s father died because of their governor’s ruthless greed.

On the other side of the coin, this manhunt for Hadrian Bellamy’s daughter didn’t matter at all to Rex Tholen. He knew that she wouldn’t survive long in the wilderness, if she didn’t come crawling back first, begging to go home. Either way she would die, which was ideal for him. He didn’t like any loose ends. But the guards were so excited, and he hated to spoil their fun. Besides, it kept them from getting too fat.

Now, as Agent Blane Aberland was driving his motorcycle down the coast, his mind flashed back to the day before, when he had watched Larkin try to conceal herself from view as she snuck out of the grounds. She wasn’t very successful, but luckily he was the only one around to see her go. Why he chose to help her evade them was still a mystery to him. Her father had been on the mainland watch list for a while, and consequently she had been too. Aberland liked to search the lists every now and then, and had idly perused the Bellamys’ profiles a few months back out of sheer boredom. But he knew nothing else about them; he had no reason to be personally invested in them whatsoever. Until they landed on Tortola the previous morning, with drugs in tow to sell to Rex Tholen.

He wondered what Larkin was like and how much she knew about her dad’s illicit drug trade. Now that Hadrian Bellamy had been killed, was she sharp enough to take over the family business? Or was she nothing more than a lost puppy now? It didn’t matter. He couldn’t help her any more than he already had – it would compromise his position. He didn’t have much more room to screw up in his career anyway.

Aberland was 30 now, a washed up ex-pat and former Navy Seal. Back at the beginnings of the Socialist movement, he’d been sent on a reconnaissance mission to South America, where he fell in love with a passionate Colombian revolutionary. In the course of their whirlwind romance, he had defected and fought at her side for several years, entrenching himself in the community and endearing himself to her compatriots. His former life became a distant memory in her arms.

Together they battled through the jungles of South America trying to band more countries together under their banner, until one fateful day when their little brigade was surrounded and overpowered. She died in action and he barely escaped. Without her he was devastated, and came to despise the cause that killed her. He couldn’t stand staying there without her, and he went skulking back to the US, disgraced but desperate to lose himself in legitimate work again. Anything to numb the pain.

However, the military court judge that presided over his case had a cruel sense of humor. Aberland was assigned to camp out with two other military personnel contracted to work for the Department of Defense on a small, virtually unknown island in the Caribbean. Definitely not the action-filled outlet that he yearned for. Four years in the field, even in the most dangerous role he could play – a double agent – had made him cold, bitter, and apathetic. Maybe that was why he had helped Larkin Bellamy. He’d been ready for something exciting again. He was eager to take a few new risks.

Now as he navigated his motorcycle around the potholes on the old coastal highway to Road Town, he wondered about his next move. It was one hell of a coincidence that she had walked right in to their hideout, armed no less, and gone to sleep in one of the bedrooms right down the hall from them. Naturally his cohorts would look to him for a plan of action. They were still pretty green and unsure of themselves, and he outranked them. Despite that fact, their little hierarchy had been a joke, even with him in the position of commanding officer. Until now anyway, when official action was demanded by the catastrophe that was the Bellamys.

Aberland let the engine idle as he coasted up the long private drive that led to the old estate, then walked the bike the rest of the way, so that the sound reverberating in the secluded silence didn’t wake Larkin. He silently entered the main house and eased up the stairs, lingering by the newly occupied bedroom before proceeding down the hall to the master bedroom.

“Oh good,” Smith rushed out breathlessly, before realizing how lame he sounded.

Aberland rolled his eyes, looking at Martin, who was trying to conceal how nervous he was too.

“It’s just a girl, guys. A girl who’s bewildered, grief-stricken, exhausted, and in unfamiliar territory. It’s nothing we can’t handle.” Their faces relaxed and they nodded, reassured. Mindless grunts.

“So here’s what we do. We call in to mainland control and tell them we’ve detained the subversive Larkin Bellamy. It’ll be easy to contain her until they get here, and we’ll earn some commendation medals along the way. You two will get promoted for sure.”

‘And I’ll finally get assigned to something more exciting,’ Aberland thought.

“Of course,” Martin said, nodding confidently as though he’d thought of it himself. “That’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Smith hadn’t said a word. He was white-faced, staring anxiously at the camera feed. Martin and Aberland noticed and quickly crowded around the screen, squinting to make sense of what was on the night vision display. Before they could fully make it out, Aberland heard the unmistakable sound of the front door swinging open. An all too familiar voice echoed in the downstairs hall.

“Has anyone ever seen this place? It’s a perfect hideout! Let’s comb every inch of it. I’ll enjoy doling out this punishment.”

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