Never. Mind. Pak was right beside me, yelling to be heard over the wind that suddenly swept down the slope. The first blast tore his words apart. A second blast hit just as he tried again. To keep my balance, I turned sideways, which may be why I could hear the wind and nothing else. I thought my right ear might be ripped off in the gale, but not before it froze solid. I imagined an ice cube with my ear inside skittering along the ground, bouncing against trees and rocks, until at last it came to rest at the foot of the mountain. It might be deemed a new listening post of substantial value. Good work, Inspector, someone in the Ministry would say months hence, after all the paperwork on my commendation was complete, but I would only hear ice melting off the rocks, since my ear would not be in range of commendations.
No, Ill do it. Ill do it, I said to Pak when the wind died down for a moment and I could feel that my ear was still attached. I brushed more snow off my coat and tried to use the sleeve to clear the lenses. But we might as well quit. Really, being out here is not healthy. Then the wind started again, furious at something, howling, smashing any words that dared emerge. The last thing in the world we needed was to climb a mountain in this weather. We werent dressed for it, not through lack of foresight on our part. The Ministry just didnt issue anything fit for climbing mountains in the middle of a blizzard. The only thing were going to find is frostbite, I said. The lenses were still frosted over, though at least now they were glistening.
Pak hunched his shoulders. Relax, Inspector. Dont get in a sweat, or youll get frostbite for sure. He reached for the binoculars. You know, your ears dont look normal, especially the right one. Funny color for flesh. He cocked his head. Are you alright? Pull down those flaps, why dont you? He tugged down his own and pointed to his ears. Thats why they put them on these hats. Costs us extra, you know. Might as well use them, snaps or not.
To hell with earflaps, I thought and put my hands back in my pockets. To hell with standing in the cold. This is ugly weather. I was shouting at the top of my lungs, but from the look on his face, I didnt think Pak could hear me. We cant even see our boots in this wind! It surprised me that I could still form words; my cheeks were numb, and the feeling had practically drained from my lips. Well be stuck in that miserable hut back there for days. I jerked my head in the direction of the peaks, made nearly invisible by the snow, unless the wind had become so strong it was actually blowing apart the light. Hell freeze to death up there. I didnt point because I didnt want to take my hands from my pockets again. Well be lucky to find him next May. Pak gave me a blank stare. I shouted louder. If hes down here in the next few minutes, well invite him to dine. Ill warm my ears in the soup. The wind shrieked and knocked me sideways a step.
Pak shook his head. What? I cant hear you with these flaps down.
Bamboo and Blood. Copyright © 2008 by James Church. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Thomas Dunne books, an imprint of St. Martins Press. All rights reserved.
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