Vowels, Vodka and Voices

Hannah Four

Monday, 9:23 AM Los Angeles International Airport

The snick sound of a blade preceded a metallic gleam and the kidnapper pulled a knife to the other man’s throat.

“Not from the large cities, though,” she said aloud, feeling the old intense pull of the words, a puzzle to figure out. “It’s a voice from western South America. Spanish, but with that Andean influence. Can you hear it? That sibilant double L sound. Floats over those hard consonants.”

“If this video is real,” said Radioman, “maybe we shouldn’t watch.”

The young geek’s fingers lay still, framing the phone. The held-man’s hood glistened wet beneath the kidnapper’s hand as he continued to speak in those sounds that Hannah knew. The video was indistinct, in gray tones, and the words were less than clear. Hannah concentrated. She felt herself let go, wrapped in the words like old friends.

“Ecuador,” she said, “but the northern part. Citified, but with an overwhelming influence from the campo. College voice, though, definitely college. But with that unnecessary use of ‘pues’, multiple times. Did you notice?”  

Radioman took the breath of a long response, but the kidnapper stopped speaking, pulling attention back to the screen. Quickly he brought his fisted knife across the other man’s throat, cutting roughly through the fabric of the hood. An immediate wet rupture drenched the kidnapper’s arm. The held man slumped.

Radioman said “Oh my God,” then turned away, holding the crease between his eyes.

“I can’t believe this,” said Geek. “An execution? Wouldn’t they screen it?”

The kidnapper spoke again, the words like pure oxygen renewing Hannah. She felt the lift in her spirits as the familiar sounds settled into known patterns and the syllabic puzzle pieces fell into place.

“Yes, I do know that inflection,” she said. “That high mountain aspiration. The soft r’s and the nuance around that third syllable. It grabs you, that speech pattern, doesn’t it? Not exactly coffee region. But definitely a city in Northern Ecuador. There aren’t that many.”

“Can you stop the video, please?” asked Radioman, but the young geek seemed frozen. The held man bled and the kidnapper again spoke.

“Maybe Tulcan,” Hannah continued. “But listen to him. What about all that aspirated consonant? Has to be farther south and there isn’t much around. Pasqua: small city in the campo, high Andean region. Barrio Luche, I think, west part of the city. More or less Avenida 24 or 25. That’s where the college population resides.” She listened. “Yes. Definitely Barrio Luche, Pasqua, Ecuador. I’d swear to it.”

Hannah looked away from the screen, triumphant, only to see Radioman glaring at her as if she should be the one holding the knife. Young Geek, who had started it all, finally clicked out of the video and closed the screen. Radioman voiced his opinion in clipped judgmental tones.

“Swear to it? As if the language is important,” he said. “Didn’t you even see the killing?”

She tried to ignore him, aiming her face downward, breathing in the coffee, letting go the words. In her exhilaration, she had forgotten what came next.

The hurt pressed upon her, more real than the violence on the screen. She could trap the language again, reactivate the hum. But now, having let the syllables lay soft against her mind so that she might track their origin, right to the very street this time, Hannah realized how much she had missed it. There was the pleasure of the language, then the pain in success.

The hum would drown out the voices, once she brought it back to mind. But first, she had to remember how to get rid of the crushing hurt.

Cleo Four

Monday, 9:30 AM Los Angeles International Airport

Her pocket buzzed and Cleo wondered why she ever put the phone away. Despite Sandra’s rebuke, frequent calls littered Cleo’s working days and they usually came from her boss.

She slid out the phone, still watching the scene in front of her unfold, expecting to hear from Sandra, expecting to have to describe Hannah’s odd reaction and the woman’s inability to control herself. Cleo hadn’t been close enough to see what everyone was looking at or to hear the talking. But she had seen the physical responses and the body language. Disturbing.

Before Cleo could bring the phone up close, the crisp, slightly upper-class voice of the big boss spoke into her ear bud.

The surprise caught her off-guard, and for a moment Cleo wondered if this was a personal conversation, from JS to Cleo. But John Smith and Associates – JSA – did not function on such a short leash. She reminded herself there were three other people linked. And possibly more she did not know about.

“John Smith speaking,” he said. “Follow through according to plan. She still has her skill – most of it, and we need to get to it before they do.”

They?

Cleo risked a call to Sandra.

“You forgot to tell me something, didn’t you?”

Cherie, there are always things we don’t know. Remember that.”

“So I’m done here, right? I don’t know a thing about any plan.”

“Done? Not exactly, Cherie.”

My God, living in the first person was more exhausting than a thousand re-writes.

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