Vowels, Vodka and Voices

Hannah Thirty-nine

Saturday, 7:00 AM Staroyemesto, Ukraine

Cleo stood in front of the neighborhood store, looking every bit a young Ukrainian woman. Hannah had been surprised that Cleo so willingly embraced this dyed hair color, commonly seen here, but a bit more bold than anything Hannah had ever seen in the States. Cleo swore they would love it in Panamá. Shame she had to leave her heels behind. With the heels, she would be in complete Ukrainian style.

But Cleo’s future lay in getting back to her job. Having proved her worth, she deserved now to get what she wanted. She would be walking onto the next flight making her slow way back to JSA.

Hannah, though, would not.

Natalia had arranged that Otto, her brother-in-law, would bring Hannah back to this village, Staroyemesto, after she purchased Cleo’s tickets and by that time, everything would be settled. She would have a dacha to stay in, and some transportation back and forth from wherever she needed to go for the next week or two. There were several vacant country homes that would be acceptable. Natalia simply needed to make the calls, as long as Hannah had the cash.

It seemed to Hannah that Natalia had been much more worried about Cleo’s request. She had fretted over the hair style and the color, making adjustments until the moment that Otto pulled up with the car.

But Cleo herself was beaming. The neighborhood store, fit into the corner of an unassuming front room in a tiny country house, had delivered on more than just coffee. Cleo had her new hair color and a ride back into Chernihiv. From Hannah, she even had a promise that she would be back in Kyiv before noon.

Cleo didn’t need to know that Hannah wouldn’t be going along. She didn’t need to know just yet.

Cleo Thirty-nine

Saturday, 7:50 AM Chernihiv Main Bus Terminal, Ukraine

They had made it to the bus terminal in Chernihiv. Hannah was in line to purchase their tickets. She said she might be able to buy their airplane tickets at the travel agency next to the bus company kiosks. All Cleo needed to do was relax, let her blister adjust to the new shoes Natalia had sold her.

Cleo knew something was off with Hannah. She had left behind her backpack and, it seemed, all her possessions. Cleo had asked for an explanation, and though Hannah had spoken words, she hadn’t explained anything. She’d pointed out Cleo’s Ukrainian handbag and the importance of blending in. Hannah was leaving out all the inconvenient truth. And Cleo believed there was a good deal of that.

The one issue that most worried Cleo was the passport. How could Hannah get onto a plane with a passport that hadn’t been allowed into the country? Cleo could get no answer from Hannah. She wouldn’t even confirm she had a passport for Hannah Black, and so far, Cleo had seen no proof.

A sinking feeling that Hannah had her own destination in mind rested in Cleo’s gut. She felt rather helpless in this country of many languages, none of which Cleo spoke. She would have to rely on Hannah, who seemed more comfortable and less odd the more she spoke languages that Cleo could not understand. Hopefully, Hannah was buying at least one ticket to Panamá. It was past time for Cleo to be heading home.

In the meantime, Cleo had decided to contact her boss. What she would tell her and how much she needed to reveal, Cleo had not quite resolved in her head before the connection to Sandra came through. She saw her boss’ face come into view on her notebook.

“Good lord, Miss C. You are a red I’ve never seen before. Glorious. Did you do it on purpose?”

Cleo fluffed her hair, not reacting to her boss’ latest back-handed praise.

“I hope this is a better time for you than our last call. I tried the return call yesterday, but couldn’t get through,” said Cleo, hurrying the lie. “How late is it there?”

“I’m still at the office. Things here are swinging today. JS has an all-hands-on-deck thing, but so far, I haven’t seen much action.”

“Something I should know about?”

“There seems to be a lot of waiting around for I-don’t-know-what. I’m not concerned, so you shouldn’t be.”

“I have good news. We are in a bus station, perhaps heading home. Hannah seems to have agreed to come along, though I’m not entirely convinced she’ll follow through. How would you feel if I came home without her?”

“The whole idea was to arrange a meeting with John Smith. Is Hannah with you?”

“No one told me about a meeting,” said Cleo. “My whole idea was to follow Hannah. And I have done that. A lot. And she has agreed to come back. At least, I think she has. I just have this feeling…”

“Truly, Cherie? You got her to agree to come here? Is she with you?” Sandra seemed to be handling something off-screen, fidgeting.

“Well, I wouldn’t bet on anything yet, and Hannah is not an easy read, but it seems to be heading that direction. Maybe.”

“My.”

Cleo had expected more, some instruction on what to do, perhaps even some congratulations. Or the unwanted expectation that, regardless what Hannah’s next step was, Cleo would need to follow her in this unending search for something Cleo couldn’t even name.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Cleo, “but all this may be over soon, right? If I do convince her to follow through, I assume we should come to Panamá City? I may need some help with her passport.”

“I suppose so. That sounds good.” Sandra was still fiddling off-screen, her face tilting slightly, her voice vague.

“Sandra, are you okay?”

Sandra tilted back, on screen and focused. “Oh, yes, Cherie. Where were we? Oh. Coming to Panamá City.”

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