Sitting on packs, hides and blankets around the stove the newly married couple and their somewhat awestruck hosts enjoyed Susan’s large, luxurious supper, Susan--remembering the tremendous value of such small breaks from her own child-rearing years--holding little Will for the duration so that Liz could have her hands to herself as she dined.
Einar, initially sitting off to the side in an attempt to avoid getting too warm near the stove and thus too sleepy--he was only managing to stay awake just then because of the intensity of his shivering, he was pretty sure, and hardly wanted to upset that delicate balance--hoped he might be overlooked when it came to the serving of the supper but of course he wasn’t, Susan giving him only half the portion she gave everyone else but still it looked enormous to him. And awfully good, too, smelled good, her use of the powdered garlic, soy sauce and cilantro she’d brought along as gifts for Liz adding to the savory odor of the already-wonderful meal and despite his reluctance he found himself taking a little taste, another, eyes on Will all the while where he slept peaceful and perfect in Susan’s arms, and before he knew it he’d devoured nearly his entire supper. Would be sorry for it later, he had no doubt, but for the moment was sleepy and full and very much at peace, listening as if from a great distance to the ongoing conversation around him.. Such a dramatic departure from his usual course of action at mealtimes that Liz didn’t quite know what to make of it--thought, perhaps, some particularly disagreeable portion of his journey down to the basin had convinced him that he must make a serious effort at regaining his strength--but she did not especially care why the change was taking place; she was simply glad to see him getting a good meal and hoped he might find himself able to continue eating that way.
Kilgore, much restored after his afternoon of napping and resting, was in fine form after the evening meal, entertaining his hosts with lively, animated tales of the wedding and the festivities that had followed, describing in detail the shooting, explosions and general ruckus-raising that had marked the day, repeatedly declaring that it would have surely been a lot more fun had Einar been there to demonstrate his prowess with the atlatl, spit in the eyes of any and all feds who might have managed to slip unnoticed past his security and the Sheriff’s--right, Einar responded, would have been great fun until they put about six dozen holes in me and your wedding party degenerated into open warfare between your buddies, Sheriff Watts’ men and the feds; hard to say who would have come out ahead in that one, but not real hard--and generally frighten the more gentle and sheltered of the guests with his wild mountain man appearance and demeanor.
“And then,” the happy groom continued, “to top things off, we jumped, that next morning! Last morning. My bride’s first time to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. How long’s it been since you jumped with a full combat load, Asmundson? Or since you jumped at all? Probably quite a while, yeah? Well let me tell you, it don’t lose any of its appeal with the passage of time, that’s for sure. A real fine way to see some country, feel the freedom of falling through the air like that with the world rushing up at you, and you know? It’s a lot more enjoyable when folks aren’t shooing at you from the ground, too. Less exciting, though. Definitely less exciting, and I’m sure the shooting could have been arranged with a few appropriate phone calls made in plenty of time, but didn’t figure my bride would care too much for that bit--or that you would, in such close proximity to your home, and all--so decided to skip that part. So how long’s it been, Asmundson?”
Einar looked thoughtful, distant, perhaps even a bit annoyed at the tracker’s antics, Liz not sure at all that he was going to answer, but he did, rolling the Nutella jar between his hands as he spoke. “In combat? Thirty, thirty two years or so, I guess. About the same as you. Less than that if you count little undeclared conflicts and almost-wars where we never even had a presence or fired a shot…officially. Wouldn’t mind doing it again someday, but there seem to be just a few little problems with arranging that at the moment…”
“Oh yeah, you think? Why, we’ll just get Kiesl’s little green-and-white--the small plane, not the one we flew up here in--outfitted with skis, land it up there on that red ridge and pick you kids up, circle around a few times then drop ya over the basin! What do you say? Never too early for the little one to make his first jump…”
“Oh, it’s too early alright!” Liz insisted, before Einar even had a chance to speak up. “Way too early, and I hardly think we’d want to be risking that sort of exposure just for a good time, anyway. Would we?”
“Aw but it wouldn’t be just for a good time,” Kilgore insisted. “Though if you have any doubts as to the pure joy of falling unhindered through the high, thin air just ask my bride, here…but no. This would have a purpose. Would be a training jump for Arizona.”
“Arizona?” Einar was up in a crouch, looking all wild and wary once more, the quiet contentment that had seemed to come over him with the consumption of his first full meal in many, many days gone in an instant. “What’s going on in Arizona?”
“My house is sitting there empty, that’s what. All empty and alone and gonna be that way for the rest of the winter it looks like, ‘cause my bride and me, well, we kinda like it here in these mountains, and besides, I got work for the rest of the winter down at Task Force Wild Goose Chase there in the valley. Don’t like leaving my house and shop all alone like that for so long, and I’m lookin’ for some caretakers. You know, young couple with a kid or two, maybe, who are quiet and responsible and looking for a change of scenery… Fella would need to be good with his hands and able to go for weeks at a time without needing to run down into town and such, because the place is pretty remote and no one plows that long, long driveway in the winter, access by ski and snowmobile only for a couple of months every year and not too many are willing to go for such an arrangement. What do you say? Not nearly as cold and snowy down there as you folks are used to but it does snow, and I figure you’re both pretty doggone good at adapting and overcoming, by this point. Ought to be able to make it work. So. Sound like a good deal?”
“For the feds, yeah. Sounds like a real good deal for the feds.” Einar was on his feet, the unsettled feeling that had been creeping over him for the past minutes growing and becoming all but intolerable so that he had to be moving, going, could no longer stand the confinement of the cabin walls around him and had to dive for the tunnel door, Kilgore close behind.