Monday, 11:50 PM Mendota, Illinois
“Oh, hell, no,” said a male voice, loud, so loud that Hannah woke, confused by sleep.
She heard a rustling and some grumbles from her neighbors, and remembered where she was; but the loud voice, a new one, continued from outside in the corridor along to the opposite room.
“Well, I know, babe, I just don’t see a way for it to work.”
Hannah heard the murmured response of a soft voice, but she could not distinguish the words. The large man’s voice continued, as loud as if the world needed to hear.
“Just how do they expect a big galloot like me to fit this tiny little card into the smallest slot ever made?”
“No, babe, you’re right. You’re right. I’ll try it the other which way.” Hannah heard some fumbling. A door rattled. “Oh, hell, no.”
The murmur soothed, again, and Hannah wished she could hear that second voice. Hannah sat up, bringing her sheet with her against the headrest. She listened to the man.
“Well, isn’t there a light should go on? I’ll try’er again.”
“Texas,” Hannah said, as if giving an answer in a game show, then continued listening to the big man with the bellowing voice.
“Well, hell, darlin’, they make ‘em bigger where we’re from, I know they do.” A murmur. “No, babe, it ain’t because it’s late and I’m tired.”
Hannah pulled her knees to her chest, continuing her game. “More west than central, he’s got that loopy twang, clobbers those endings. College or not, there is no way to tell with Texans.”
The murmur made a plea, then the man responded. “Yes, Ma’am, I expect you’re right. You give’er a try.”
“Not a Mexican accent,” said Hannah, “not even several generations past. Big, blustering, and full of the truth.”
Hannah heard a booming cheer from the corridor, a door opening, and the man again.
“Just like a princess makin’ a wish, and every door up and opens.”
The murmur responded. Then the man from West Texas again.
“And, darlin’, it’s not that late and I’m not that tired.”
“Fort Stockton,” said Hannah, as the couple used the walls to balance their entry into the hotel room next door.
Hannah folded back the bed sheets, crawled the length of the bed, pulled her earphones and nearly-ancient MP3 player from her pack, reversed her movements and listened to Elton John’s Aida while she waited for sleep. She thought there was one thing missing from her sleuthing out the loud voice. Before Sting finished his version of ‘Another Pyramid’, she knew what it was.
Now that she had once again let the voices in, she had no one to tell her successes to. She didn’t have the companionship of the scoundrels, Michael and Rico. Or anyone else.
Tuesday, 7:50 AM Princeton near Mendota, Illinois
“Listen, Clyde. I hardly slept. I’m not in the right time zone. I haven’t had breakfast because renting a car is supposed to be easy, and there should have been time to eat after. But because it hasn’t been easy, Clyde, now I won’t have time to eat. I can’t find cell-phone reception in this town, a fact I know because I believe I’ve walked every inch of it. I don’t want an upgrade. I don’t want a red Mustang with a moon roof. I want a non-descript compact. One with as many miles on the odometer as possible.”
“I can do that,” said Clyde. “But the upgrade is free, and the Mustang is only $50.00 more, mileage included.”
Good God, the clerk was more irritating than the odd-fitting change of clothing that Cleo had purchased at Max’s General Store.
“Here is my charge card, here is my license. Give me a basic car now. No upgrade. No Mustang.”
Cleo left the building assured that car #67893220 was directly behind in the lot. She could only hope that the map Clyde had promised would be in the glove, because in Princeton, Illinois, one did not count on the availability of cell towers. Maybe not for 100 miles in any direction.