Vowels, Vodka and Voices

Hannah Twenty-four

Thursday, 5:40 PM Kyiv, Ukraine    

She had walked ahead of Anton into the rooming house, and then kept going. She hadn’t answered his question, nor explained anything, but it had not been pay-back for his lack of answers. She had been lost in the burning sensation of his touch and the mystery of what he knew.

Hannah returned to her room, hoping to settle herself. Anton knew something personal about her, something that only she in the entire world could know, did know. That realization slammed into her head, defying reason. He could not know what he spoke of. Her mind refused to function in such a flurry of impossibles.

And then her parents. Why had her mind collapsed, like a deflated bubble, at the memory of her parents? Of course, she thought of them every so often. But she did not have complicated feelings about her parents. They were simply good people from long ago.

Hannah had sought the quiet of her room, thinking she would sort all this out. But as soon as she sat on the bed, a physical numbness claimed her, and she lay down. The grip of an instant deep sleep, the kind that takes ahold and squeezes reason from any sane person, covered her like a heavy blanket.

Instead of feeling refreshed, when she woke, Hannah felt as if all her edges blurred and her thoughts were trying to find their way out of a deep well full of sand.

Worse, the bone behind her ear still burned. She closed her eyes and allowed more sleep to envelope her.

Cleo Twenty-four

Thursday, 5:45 PM Kyiv, Ukraine       

   “Anton. I adore everything about Kyiv and would love to keep drinking,” said Cleo. “But dinner calls, and you have not answered my question. Why are we here?”

   Anton tapped his spent cigarette against the ash tray with more strength than the two remaining inches required. It was the first time Cleo had seen Anton do anything with intensity.

“Is work thing. You know JSA. Is simple work.”

The welcome mat had been withdrawn. Anton’s response was defensive wordplay. Whatever the real reason for traveling to this wonderful country, at least now Cleo knew it was not anything Anton was offering for an answer. It wasn’t simple work.

   Cleo pulled from her wallet an unknown quantity of the Ukrainian currency she had exchanged at the airport, but was it waved away by Anton. She stood, thanked the men for the vodka and their company, and left the patio café. If drinking was the price of learning any more information, she would have to satisfy her appetite for dinner first. Another shot and she might not care what information came her way.

She might have to find another way to learn the reason for Hannah’s visit. Or leave it to someone else. If she had a team of JSA helpers, it might be an easier task. But, she had just herself. She paused in her walk. Maybe just herself was enough.

   Dinner called to Cleo. She started the trek up the hill to the apartment house. If she needed it, the tracker would follow Sergei, as long as he stayed close and kept his shirt on.

   Nothing Anton had said seemed truthful. Hannah was needed for something important, otherwise JSA wouldn’t have put in the effort. But what that important thing was, Cleo had no clue.

   She couldn’t reliably know a lie, like Hannah, but she saw Anton’s reluctance with his answers. Hannah had decided that they were not in any danger, but Cleo was beginning to trust her own judgments also. Anton did not appear to be a dangerous man. But why this trip? What was their purpose for being here?

A work assignment, Anton had said. But work always had expectations, a time table, agreed-upon goals. This venture had none of that. If it wasn’t work-related for Anton, then what was it?

   Anton didn’t seem desperate. He seemed guarded. If Anton desperately needed Hannah, Cleo felt this visit would be moving along at a different pace, a much faster pace. But they had just finished a pleasant shopping trip and gone on a day-long tour. And Cleo had sat at a table sharing drinks with Anton and someone posing as his friend. Their exchange had been calculated, perhaps intense, but not rushed.

   Still, Anton needed Hannah’s skills for something, and that meant that the ball was in their court, Cleo’s and Hannah’s. Theirs was the position of strength. Cleo stopped for a moment and relished the thought of being on Hannah’s side. Yes, she enjoyed that thought. In fact, she had been enjoying every moment of everything since she had woken up in this glorious country earlier that morning.

   Cleo could see the apartment building’s street. She was ready for dinner, and satisfied with her day’s enterprise. Had she even thought once to call Sandra for advice or permission? She didn’t think so. Maybe she should attempt a call in the morning, just to check in.

But at the moment, the only thing on her mind – besides dinner – as she rounded the corner to her home-away-from-home was the location of the nearest salon. If there was one thing she wanted to take home from Ukraine, it was that vibrant red hair color she had seen on several of the young women. Almost metallic. Panamá would love it.

   Her legs strained with the climb of the last half-block of hillside. She gave her head a quick shake. The vodka had been more ice than cold, but her feeling about this country had definitely warmed.

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