Monday, 6:16 PM Southwest Chief Amtrak Train, Chicago
“Iowa,” Hannah said. “You’re from Iowa. Not the bigger cities, if you can call them big. The kind of place that hides emotion for everyone’s comfort. Polite, loves those two-syllabic vowels. You’re from Iowa, Missy. Somewhere like Marion.”
Acceptance appeared in the younger woman’s eyes. Not necessarily that Hannah was correct, but that she was not easily controlled, and Hannah liked that recognition. Cleo appeared to gather herself, pulling her responses back inside, putting up her guard.
“It’s my job to persuade you to come back,” said Cleo.
“It would be fun to see your old friends.”
“There is simply no way for you to know that,” Hannah said.
“What if I told you it was for your own good?”
“Hah. You have no idea why John Smith wants to bring me in, do you?”
Hannah waited as Cleo pushed out a long sustained breath.
“Not a clue,” Cleo said. Hannah met her gaze with silence.
“Please,” said the younger woman, but Hannah did not respond. Cleo looked away, tapped her toe, then pulled herself tall and opened her satchel. “I’d been told that you might need some further convincing. So I was given this for possible communication.”
Cleo brought out a small notebook computer, flipped open the cover and tapped commands. She offered the screen to Hannah with a brusque movement, suddenly agitated.
“I’ve no use for that,” said Hannah. “And although I appreciate the honesty in your voice, I haven’t any use for you, either.”
“Ms. Antrim, your help is desperately needed.” Now the anxious voice, sticking to a careful script.
“Young lady, you don’t even know the reason John Smith is looking for me. Not the real reason.”
Cleo tapped a few icons and brought a link to full screen. Hannah turned away, put her arm through the strap on her pack, and stepped into the aisle.
“Please, Hannah, talk to them.”
Cleo held the notebook in front of Hannah, keeping pace with her movements. Hannah hefted her pack fully onto her back, took a step along the aisle. Then stopped.
On the computer screen was the hooded kidnap victim from today’s killing. Hannah’s pulse throbbed as she held her breath. The man was moving and speaking. And looking directly at Hannah.
She did not want to lose control of this interaction, but she felt a slide into the unknowable. The person on the screen was familiar, shrouded by a fabric veil, but almost recognizable. And very much alive. He removed the hood that had hidden his face. Hannah faltered, stepped back, and sat down.
“Michael,” she said.
“Hey there, Hannah Banana,” he said through the screen, easily, just as Hannah remembered him.
“It was you. But I didn’t know,” Hannah said.
“Stayed inside my hood and didn’t say a word. Here’s someone else you’ll want to say hi to.”
Michael looked to his right, and made room for the second hooded man, the suspected terrorist. That man pushed away the dark fabric covering his face, revealing first an arresting smile and then a head of wild black hair. Hannah leaned toward the screen.
“Rico,” she said.
“So, are you ready to come back to us now, Hanny?” asked Rico.
“The last time anyone called me that,” Hannah said, “I hid myself away for ten years.”
“No need to apologize. We never took it personally. You were just overdue for some R&R,” said Rico.
“I taught seventh grade. It was not relaxing.”
“So, now it’s time to come back and play,” said Michael.
The two jostled on the screen, lively, laughing.
“Maybe I didn’t know it was you scoundrels, but I did know something.”
“What did you know, Hannah Banana?” asked Michael.
“I knew you weren’t killed. Rico can’t speak violence in any language.”
Monday, 6:25 PM Southwest Chief Amtrak Train, Chicago
“She’s getting off. Should I follow? Not that I know anything about following people.”
“Did you place the microchip?” asked Sandra.
“It’s on her backpack strap. You said it’s good for 24 hours, right? Follow or not?” Cleo stood at the open door of the train, watching Hannah and regretting the fact that it was too late for Cleo to take the whine out of her speech.
“Did she talk to Michael and Rico?”
Cleo grumbled, and that probably answered the question. “I told you I wasn’t a good fit for this. She’s off the train. Follow or not. I need to know.”
“Alright,” said Sandra. “So not even the terrible twosome could get her back. Get off the train. But try not to let her see. It’s late. Let’s give her some space and the night, if we can. She’ll go to a hotel, think things over. Jesus, she is one bitter pill. We should have had her at LAX.”
Cleo glanced out to the station, stepping out as the doors began to close.
“Maybe the fake execution was a bit of over-kill?”
“Much like the pun, Cherie?”
“John Smith shouldn’t have let them go that far.”
“Water under the bridge.”
“Shouldn’t we just tell her the truth?” asked Cleo.
“The truth? Whatever for?”
“Can’t someone just grab her? Wouldn’t that be better than all this…whatever this is?”
“You’d have to ask John Smith,” said Sandra.
“And there’s something in her voice I can’t figure out.”
“You’re doing voices now?”
Cleo watched as Hannah, with her precision pack, her hemmed pants and her downward gaze, walked into the station. Cleo held back, feeling uncertain.
“We’re just going to leave her alone in Mendota, Illinois?”
“You’re sounding maternal, Chérie.”