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Chapter 71 The Airport

  • “The airport.” He took a mobile telephone out of his shirt pocket. “I’ll ring KingAir now to get a plane ready to fly.”
KingAir…the charter company owned by his brother Tommy. Of course! She and Alicia could fly anywhere. And hopefully Jared’s part in their escape could be covered up. A charter service was in the public domain. Just because his brother owned it didn’t necessarily mean her use of it was tied to the King family in any personal sense.
“I can pay for it. One thing I’m not short of is money,” she said with savage irony.
“Fine! Get Alicia and we’ll leave now.”
She left him talking to someone in the KingAir office on his mobile, confident he could charter a plane for them at a moment’s notice. Christabel didn’t doubt he would manage it, one way or another. He was so positive about getting her and Alicia to a safe place, she let herself hope it could really happen.
As she approached the class teacher, her mind was already racing over a course of action. The emergency funds hidden behind the lining of her handbag would take her anywhere she decided to go, buy anything she and Alicia required until such time as she could get back to the safety deposit box in Sydney. The caravan and the Cherokee could be left behind. Best to completely abandon them.
The teacher was sympathetic to her apologies for leaving the group, accepting the explanation that she had to take Alicia to meet some people who’d arrived unexpectedly in Broome. Which neatly covered Jared’s coming to collect her.
Alicia, of course, had more awkward questions for her to handle. “Why can’t we stay, Mummy?” she half-wailed as Christabel took her hand and drew her away from her friends.
“Because we have to leave.”
“But we were going to have a picnic on the beach.”
“Jared is taking us somewhere better.”
“Where?” she demanded truculently.
“It’s a surprise.”
“I don’t want a surprise. I like it here.”
“Don’t argue with me, Alicia. We’re going with Jared and that’s that.”
She huffed and sulked.
“Don’t shame me with bad behaviour in front of Jared,” Christabel tersely reproved. “He’s been very kind to us.”
Another more resigned sigh, then a spark of interest. “Are we going to his house again?”
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
Jared was replacing his mobile telephone in his pocket as they joined him. He gave Christabel a nod of confirmation, then smiled at Alicia, projecting his usual charming manner.
“Sorry to take you away from your friends, but I do have a special treat lined up for you.”
She instantly brightened, her little face lighting with eager curiosity. “What is it?”
“Well…” He took her other hand, intent on hurrying the three of them along as they set off together. “…instead of watching birds, I thought you might like to zoom off into the sky like one.”
“You mean in a plane?” she cried excitedly.
“Yes. A small plane. It will give you a bird’s view of everything you fly over.”
While Jared chatted on with Alicia, explaining how differently places looked from the sky, Christabel forced her mind off the all too distracting rapport that flowed so easily—so appealingly—between Jared and her daughter and concentrated on mulling over possible destinations.
Perth or Darwin were big enough cities to hide them for a while but they’d be the first places Rafael Santiso would target, and since he’d come this far to get them under his thumb again, he’d stop at nothing in searching them out. Alice Springs was a less likely place for him to look, right in the centre of Australia.
She recollected there was a famous train—the Ghan—that ran from there to the city of Adelaide in South Australia. One didn’t need identification to buy tickets for a train trip. It might throw off any investigators from picking up her track.
Having made the decision, her thoughts circled around Rafael Santiso, the formidable Argentinian who had once headed the South American branch of the Kruger network. He’d moved very fast to clinch a much higher position after Laurens’s death, manoeuvring his way around the other factions to win Bernhard’s trust and support, taking the reins of power the moment the old man had passed on. Christabel had never trusted him. He was the one who had benefited most from her husband’s fatal accident.
Worriedly she glanced at Jared. He didn’t realise what he was dealing with. It was a dangerous game, helping her like this, frustrating very powerful interests. Her heart was deeply torn by having to leave him, having to cut him out of her life—this beautiful, wonderful man who’d shown her how it could be when everything felt right and nothing bad intruded—yet it could never be right for them again now.
Any more stolen time with him could put all he held dear in jeopardy. No matter how strong he was, the Kruger juggernaut would run over him, uncaring what was destroyed in serving its best interests. Somehow she had to figure out a way to keep Jared safely removed from her situation.
By the time they reached the car park and were settled in his big Range Rover, Christabel was ready to lay out her plan. With Alicia in the back seat, she had Jared more or less to herself, seated next to him at the front of the vehicle. Once he’d switched on the engine and set off towards Broome, she broached the subject of avoiding any trouble from his connection to her escape.
“The lie you told your mother about our meeting at the pearl farm…how do you intend to explain that away, Jared?”
He slanted her a wryly amused look. “I don’t have to explain it, Christabel.”
“You once said to me some things can’t be stopped. You can count Santiso as one of those things,” she warned.
His face turned grim. “Tell me why you fear him so much.”
She ignored his demand for information, rushing out a scenario he could use. “You could say I called you after your mother’s call and cancelled our meeting at the pearl farm, explaining about the excursion. Say I cut off the connection too quickly for you to tell me about…about the people asking for me, so you came to the bird observatory to let me know and offer us a lift back to town. I think that’s a reasonable story.”
“I don’t need a story,” he said with a hint of exasperation and a look that derided her attempt to clear his involvement with her. “What I need is the truth about these men and what part they play in your life.”
“That isn’t important,” she shot at him anxiously. “What is important is to keep you out of it.”
“Out of what, Christabel?” he persisted.
She shook her head. “Please listen to me, Jared. It’s for your own good, believe me. Once we get to Broome, you can drop me and Alicia where I parked the Cherokee, near the school. I’ll drive to the airport and fix things up with the KingAir office. That way you won’t be personally connected to my…my getaway.”
He frowned at her. “You’re frightened for me?”
She closed her eyes at his incredulous tone. “Please… Just do as I ask, Jared,” she begged flatly.
He made no reply for an agonising length of time. For Christabel, the tension of waiting was so painful she could barely contain the emotions churning through her. She fiercely willed him to agree, to cut himself free of her and Alicia.
“Give me your car keys,” he brusquely commanded.
Her eyes flew open in disbelief. “What?”
“Your car keys,” he repeated. “I’ll see that your Cherokee is parked outside the KingAir office after you’re on the plane. That will cover your story, if a story eases your mind.”
“It will ease my mind to personally see you and Alicia onto a plane and know you’re beyond the grasp of the men you fear.” He sliced her a look of steely determination. “I’m not letting you out of this vehicle until we arrive at the airport, so just do as I say and give me your car keys.”
She had to concede that his plan eliminated any risk of running across the men she wanted to avoid. Relieved that he seemed to be accepting her cover story, she dug into her handbag for her key ring.
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