Lyle Ashley Tate, Aiden Parker, Carter (Gil) Gillespie, Miles Sutherland,
Agent Breslaw and introducing Gideon Sterling
A private airfield, somewhere in America, 23rd January 9.50am
Agent Breslaw was watching him, Lyle could tell. He’d only got up to buy a bottle of coke, for god’s sake! The agent had told them not to move. Aiden and his dog were sitting obediently by his side, but Lyle was restless.
Aiden’s pet, Dante, looked at him too, cautiously wagging its curly, fluffy tail. The poor thing was going to find the ‘plane ride stressful, Lyle guessed. They probably all were. Nothing much had been said yet about where they were heading or what they would find when they got there. Lyle wished he’d got a look at a paper this morning, but they had been hustled into this room almost as soon as they got to the airfield. He hadn’t seen or heard anything on the news to suggest there had been a humanitarian disaster anywhere lately, other than the flooding in in Australia. He wondered briefly if that had concerned Miles Sutherland at all? He didn’t know which part of the place the Aussie doctor was from.
The scene from the previous night—Gil and Miles sucking face—kept running through Lyle’s mind. He couldn’t moan to Aiden or Breslaw about it though, because the recording system in his home was a secret, it seemed, between him and the missing agent, Nicole Tyler. Right now he was so pissed, he wanted to punch something. He kicked the drinks machine, winning an extra bottle for his efforts. Dante barked in response to the sudden bang and the motion. Breslaw looked at him with obvious concern and Aiden flinched.“Mr. Tate…” Breslaw began, a bit of a growl in his voice. Evidently he was feeling the strain too.
“Yeah, I know, stay calm. I’m not calm though, Marshal. The Bratva could be anywhere; we left early for a reason. We’ve all been up-rooted with less than twenty-four hours notice, and you and I both know what’s going on is not kosher for ordinary witness protection.” Lyle could hear the tension and anger in his own voice. Dante growled at his raised voice, placing himself between Lyle and his master.
Despite being pissed at Gil, he realised he was worried about him too. Lyle hadn’t expected them to be split up for the drive to the airport. He knew he wouldn’t settle until they were all together again. God knows how Aiden is holding it together, Lyle thought, he’s been suffering ever since the Pierce bitch expressed her opinion on Flynn’s potential as a pawn set for sacrifice.
“Well gentlemen, we’re at your departure point. George and I bid you bon voyage.” Tony Alessi sounded positively delighted to be washing his hands of them, Gil thought. Mind you, he couldn’t blame the Eidolon operative, the last fifty miles or so had been like sitting in a fridge as far as he was concerned. He hadn’t realised quite how possessive Miles could be. One little hug and kiss from another man and Roofie was going to have to make room for him in the dog house.
“You’re not coming with us then?” Gil asked.
“We have work to do here, especially since you sent your policeman friend over to Dr. Sutherland’s house. That was quite an annoying move on your part, Mr.Gillespie.” Alessi sounded testy.
“Annoying? That bike is my pride and joy, I’m not trusting it to any Tom, Dick or Harry.” With emphasis on Dick, Gil thought sourly. “I trust Lance, he’s the Sheriff. I know he’ll do what I ask.” Unlike you, he considered. Gil realised he would be heartily glad to see the back of both agents. Alessi had developed an annoying tendency to treat them a little like second class citizens, as though the fault for all this somehow lay with him and Miles. “Neither of us had anything to do with Vale, and now we find we’re having to uproot ourselves and travel half-way round the world, to some backwater island in the middle of nowhere to stay for God knows how long on the advice of an agency we’re never heard of before, because we might—,” he raised a hand in emphasis, “—and I stress, might—be on the Russian Mafia’s hit list? Oh, you have not seen annoying, Mr Alessi. I am nowhere near annoyed….” Gil abruptly grabbed his bags from the boot and walked away. Fucking prick, Gil was more than frustrated with the whole thing. Guilt by association, Miles acting like a dick and then Lance… It was nice to be wanted but sometimes… maybe it was better he was heading to the middle of nowhere. He could keep his head down for a while.
A small passenger terminal stood adjacent to the runway and a faceless Eidolon suit held the door open for them, not really looking at them, his eyes roving beyond and behind as they passed inside. It was disturbingly reminiscent of a presidential bodyguard eyeing the territory for snipers and Gil was almost relieved to be under cover. He was also relieved to see that the others were already there, Breslaw sitting nearby and what was presumably another Eidolon suit standing off to one side. Lyle seemed to be having a heated conversation with the Marshal; Lyle was more animated than Gil had seen him be since their situation had flared up in his face. Aiden’s dog, Dante, was bouncing around his master, clearly excited by the whole situation.
“You can let your dogs off their leashes, sirs.” The newest Eidolon guy to appear in Miles’ field of vision was as faceless as the rest of his colleagues, and just as unlikeable as far as Miles was concerned. “There’s not much they can get up to in here,” the man added.
“You’d be surprised. You going to catch him if he takes off?” Miles smirked, he’d like to see him try. The guy didn’t look much faster on his feet than he was.
Breslaw stepped forward. For some reason he seemed to think Miles trusted him more than the rest. “Dr. Sutherland, we are about to go on a quite lengthy flight. Everyone is taking a chance to relax for ten minutes or so. Mr. Parker here…” Breslaw gestured to Aiden, “insists his animal travels in the cabin with us…”
“Bloody right. Roofie will too, I’m not shoving him into a luggage compartment.”
Aiden came over. “They’re putting them into cages, Miles. They want to sedate them too.” The young teacher seemed quite distraught.
“The fuck they are!” Miles was steaming. Roofie had been ill treated before and was liable to bite anyone who tried to manhandle him. He didn’t want to know what response that would evoke in their gun-toting escorts. “They need to pee, just like the rest of us! If this is a long flight we can’t tell them to cross their legs and wait.”
“Its standard practice on flights.” Gil offered into the conversation but it appeared nobody was interested in what he had to say. “A cage will keep them safe and the sedation shouldn’t put them to sleep, it’s only to calm them down a little. Or at least, it should be. If we hit turbulence the dogs need to be able to balance themselves…”
“How come you know so much, you don’t even have a dog?” Miles frowned. Gil always seemed to have the bloody answers. At least he had the good grace to look a little embarrassed.
“My Aunt brought her dog over to the UK when she last visited. She was with us for three months, couldn’t bear to leave her baby behind—spoilt little Bichon Frise—she told us all about it, chapter and verse…”
“Well, I want to speak to the vet.”
“We don’t have a vet here, Dr.Sutherland,” the faceless suit interrupted, “the doctor who is here to give you all your inoculations says he has something with him that’s suitable for the animals.”
Miles growled and swore enough to convince the men he needed to consult with this doctor of theirs. He handed Roofie’s leash to Aiden and strode off further into the terminal on the suit’s heels.
“They’re probably going to sedate us too.” Lyle murmured softly. “Not that I mind, I have stuff I’d rather not dwell on while we travel.” Gil wasn’t sure how to interpret the sour look Lyle gave him then.
The ease with which Lyle was taking on all this cloak and dagger crap was startling, really, but then Gil remembered his fuck buddy and he had that secret code they had arranged between them. Maybe Lyle’s middle name was James after all.
The private airfield was quiet. It seemed theirs was the only scheduled flight right now. A beautiful, unmarked, white jet was waiting on the tarmac, its steps down and ready for them. The plane was long and sleek, narrow wings set toward its rear, elegant blades sweeping back at a steep angle towards the tail. Its twin engines were mounted either side of the base of the tail fin. Gil’s breath hitched, stunned as he was by the handsome lines of the aircraft. It brought into mind his long-held dream to learn to fly, dissolving the sour feelings he had for the now-departed Alessi and their tight-lipped chauffeur, George, and easing his disquiet about their journey.
This wasn’t a utility vehicle, though, this plane was built for fast transfers and to impress. Its presence on the tarmac screamed ‘money’, reinforcing the concept that Eidolon had unlimited resources. Gil doubted the corporate line they had been fed, the spurious claim that Eidolon resources were being applied in humanitarian efforts worldwide. He’d never heard of them before and corporations doing good works liked to publicise the fact, if only to claim the tax relief associated with doing so. He couldn’t fault the luxury, though, and for the first time that day, Gil found himself almost eager to get going.
Lyle’s predictions were right. Two of them were asleep minutes after eating their in-flight meals. Aiden was parched, but having seen how quickly the others fell asleep he had no intention whatsoever of eating or drinking anything Eidolon might offer him, not until one of the others was awake enough to take over watching out for them all, anyway. A bottle slid between the head rests and Aiden turned to see Gil, who patted his bag and indicated the water bottle. He had brought it with him? So he wasn’t the only one who distrusted their hosts. Aiden slid the bottle out and watched as Gil winked and then slid his eyes shut, feigning sleep. Aiden took a grateful swallow and tucked the bottle beside him, out of sight. He wasn’t completely alone then.
The plane certainly was something. The interior was all leather and real wood. The blinds had been lowered the moment they were off the ground, so Aiden had no idea which direction they were heading. For the most part, once they figured out he was on some sort of hunger strike the Eidolon guys pretty much left him to his own devices.
This was very much not how Aiden had been expecting to spend today. When he hadn’t been able to speak to Flynn he’d protested loudly as well as physically, but to no avail. He was terribly worried about his lover, even though he figured whatever was happening to him Flynn would cope, having seen a lot more of this world and these types of men than he had.
It was worrying though. Flynn had been unconscious the last time he saw him, knocked into a coma by the blow to his head sustained whilst rescuing him. That brought back memories Aiden wished he didn’t have. Dante twitched, whining; maybe he sensed his master’s distress even in his sleep?
Breslaw approached, sitting in the seat beside Aiden. “How are the animals, Mr. Parker?”
“They’re doing okay, I think. I don’t like that they sedated them, and us.” Aiden had noticed that Breslaw, too, had been refusing refreshments. He figured that meant the Marshal was on their side, or at least being treated that way by the organisation that was now in charge of their safety.
Breslaw nodded, almost imperceptibly. He reached in his pocket, causing the suit nearest them to twitch, but pulled out a flask rather than his gun. He took a draught and then offered it to Aiden. “It’s rum…appropriate I guess. Wherever they’re taking us I figure we’ll find rum or saki or kava.”
“Yeah, ‘tropical island’ suggests somewhere in Oceania. You don’t know where we’re going then either?” That was a cause for anxiety to Aiden. He shook his head at the flask and thanked him. He drank from it, so it must be fine, but better safe than sorry. He really didn’t want strong spirits right now.
“It’s all part of the programme, Mr. Parker. Witness relocation at this level has a whole different set of protocols to what I’m used to. Don’t worry though, Eidolon are very good at what they do. You’ll be safe from the Bratva and the Mafia both.”
“The Mafia? They’re involved too?” Aiden knew he sounded alarmed.
“Mr. Tate…” Breslaw hesitated, and Aiden thought he might have heard him swear under his breath too. “He managed to piss them off too, long before the rest of you pissed off the Bratva. The guy seems to have a talent for such things, unfortunately for him.”
Aiden looked at Lyle, slumped in his chair fast asleep. Apart from the time they had spent in the terminal building together he didn’t really know the man. He was a friend of Gil’s, but Flynn had seemed to have some reason for disliking him. He had been working with Vale, but had he been working for Vale too? Was there a ticking time bomb amongst them, a member of the Bratva hiding himself as one of their victims?
Gil ‘woke’ some time later, moved to sit beside Aiden and took over the vigil so the teacher could get some rest. A while later Lyle joined him, albeit still a little cool towards him. Gil wondered if somehow Lyle knew what had happened in his kitchen, and then recalled something about his home being covered by cctv… shit, maybe he did know… Now was not the time to discuss it though, no matter how much he was kicking himself for not fessing up that same night. Anyway, they hadn’t made any promises to each other, right?
Aiden woke just in time to hear the seat belts warning ping on. They were down on the ground before he had properly shaken off his grogginess. He heard Miles grumbling about the risks of DVT on such a long flight, implying he thought they had been drugged, though not actually stating it. Aiden was sure they had.
“We’re transferring to another plane. It’s not finished fuelling up yet, so you’’ll be on the ground a while,” The flight attendant informed them, “Your animals will be exercised while we are waiting, and you gentlemen can refresh yourselves over in the private lounge. Our hosts at this airfield are very accommodating”
Miles and Aiden again refused to let anyone else look after their dogs. This time the dogs were kept on their leashes and their owners were escorted on their ‘walkies’. It gave them enough of a glance at the place for Miles to realise this wasn’t a public airport, though. No wonder they had separated them from Flynn; the notices and banners on the various hangers looked to be in Japanese; Flynn would have been able to interpret if he’d been there, and maybe they’d know where they were.
The rest of the men took the opportunity to freshen up and stretch their legs, but their guards made sure they didn’t see anything more of their current location than the private lounge and bathrooms. When Miles and Aiden returned and reported what they’d seen during their leg-stretching, Lyle quietly pointed out that signs could easily be faked, as could the distant chatter, seemingly Japanese, which they had heard in the distance during their stay here.
In under an hour they were trailing back across the tarmac toward a different plane. This one was obviously a seaplane, evidenced by the float at the end of each wing. A rough-looking man with close-cropped dark hair, dressed in black cargo pants and a black wife beater, greeted them. “I’m Gideon Sterling. I’m your pilot.” He certainly didn’t fit the Eidolon mould, Aiden noted. He was handsome, muscular, late thirties at a guess, with an English accent of some sort, though different from either Lyle’s or Gil’s. Despite the rough appearance, his whole demeanor oozed confidence and quiet authority.
“Good to see you, Gideon,” They watched as Breslaw first shook hands with the stranger, then pulled him into a hug which was enthusiastically returned. “I’m glad they’re going to be in safe hands. Look after them, they’ve had it rough.”
Lyle noted the almost imperceptible drawing together of Gideon’s dark eyebrows. Lyle had become too adept at reading people to miss the nuances. Gideon was curious, but he didn’t ask questions. “You know I’ll do my best.” His voice was pitched to reassure. “Adam, come visit soon, okay?” Sterling smiled a little crookedly. “It’s been too long.”
“I will if they let me,” Breslaw turned to his charges, “I’ve got to leave you here, but Gideon is one of the good guys, my Eidolon contact. He’ll make sure you stay safe. Good luck.”
Breslaw saw their expressions, the betrayal they felt. He hadn’t told them he wasn’t travelling all the way to the island with them. There was a brief kerfuffle, but his orders couldn’t be changed. Only Lyle took it on the chin, and that hurt Breslaw more than he expected. He wanted to hug the man and apologise—to take a proper leaving of all of them in fact—but they weren’t even on first name terms. Regretfully, he turned and left, not risking himself by watching their plane depart.