Vowels, Vodka and Voices

Hannah Twenty-two

Thursday, 5 PM Kyiv, Ukraine

They arrived back at the apartment building, where the driver pulled onto the sidewalk to find a place to let off his passengers. Anton got out, and busied himself with opening doors and gathering packages. Then he leaned toward the buzzer for the apartment building, finger stretched for the push.

The building’s door flew open, and a man hurried out. Anton blasted the rudeness with a few words that Hannah did not understand. Surgic, or simply Ukrainian swear words she hadn’t yet encountered?

But was there really any skill left in her? Hannah’s mind filled with all the things she might have guessed wrong about this trip. Her judgement – misjudgment? – about Anton left her with grave concern. Could she trust her assessment that Anton was not violent? Her stomach continued its slow churn. She studied his movements with a new concentration, wondering if her ability had failed her. Or worse, wondering if Anton possessed a quality of menace she could not evaluate.

She had to get away. And Young Cleo? What responsibility did she have for the girl? She had never asked for Cleo to follow along.

   They gathered on the sidewalk as the sedan left the curb. Anton stepped aside for Hannah and Cleo, heaving four of Cleo’s bags into his right arm as he held the door open with his left. Once inside, Cleo grabbed all her treasures and nearly skipped up the steps to the rooms on the next floor. Had Hannah brought her into a dangerous situation? Should that even concern her?

Hannah struggled to keep the sound of panic from her voice, because some feral instinct was telling her to flee. She looked at Anton and tried once more.

   “Anton, what purpose do I have here? I know my reasons for coming, but why do you need me here?”

   Anton pursed his lips, nodded his head, stepped forward. With an outstretched finger, just as he had reached for the door buzzer, he tapped the bony back of Hannah’s left ear.

   “You tell me about this, dah?”

Cleo Twenty-two

Thursday, 5:05 PM Kyiv, Ukraine

   The driver had pulled up onto the sidewalk to let them off at the apartment building. Right up out of the street onto the sidewalk, near the entrance. What a wonderful use of space, and so convenient. Cleo began her exit.

   The building’s door burst open and a man vaulted from the interior of the stairwell. Anton grabbed the open door to keep it from closing. The two had nearly collided, but without the off-handed nature of a mistaken step. Cleo couldn’t be certain. Had their hands exchanged something small? She glanced at the other man’s face. He was not one of the guests from that morning’s breakfast.

   She had intended to place the tracking device with the driver. A simple reach and that task would be done. Easy. But there was something about Anton’s quick movement and the timing of the man’s exit from the building that seemed orchestrated. Why?

   Think fast, Cleo, she told herself. One tracking device for two curiosities. Either way, the power cell would last for only 24 hours. Who did she want to keep track of?

   She chose the running man, quickly exited the sedan with a bag in her hand, turning and grazing his shirtsleeve cuff with her hand. It wasn’t the best place for long-term surveillance – Cleo figured a wallet or briefcase would have been better – but the activated tracker stuck instantly. John Smith had been right when he said using this device took no training at all. Cleo had now placed two trackers successfully without ever having practiced: one with Hannah herself, and now the second with this new character.

   She hauled her bags with her left hand, stepped through the apartment building’s door held open by Anton, added the bags he carried to her right hand and raced up the steps. Cleo had to get dressed for the evening. She felt like celebrating. Vodka? Why not?

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