When Bud and Susan returned from their foray out into the snowy woods surrounding the cabin, it was to find Liz and Einar going about their day in what appeared to be a fairly normal fashion, Liz working over the stove and Einar pacing with little Will, who seemed to have taken quite a liking to perpetual motion when he wasn’t either eating or fast asleep. Liz greeted the returning pair, taking snowshoes and hanging snow-plastered hats and mittens near the fire to begin thawing out and drying, but Einar had nothing to say, throwing Kilgore a cold glance and resuming his pacing.
“How’s the storm coming along out there? From the looks of you two, it doesn’t appear to have tapered off too much…”
“Nope,” Kilgore replied, his voice a good-natured growl. “Howling and rumbling something terrible, still. Looks like we’re in for a good long day of it. Tracks getting filled in nearly as soon as a person makes em, and you really can’t see more than a few feet in any direction, when it’s really blowing. Fella could get pretty badly turned around out there, if he wasn’t careful. And maybe,” a sideways glance at Einar, “even if he was. But one thing’s for sure. Storm like this will have entirely wiped out any sign we left coming up here. We’re in the clear, far as that goes. And could manage it the same way as we leave here, too, if we plan it for a day or so before the next major storm to roll through here. Leave nothing behind that’d last more than a day or two, make a clean break. Sue and I will be doing it that way for sure, watching the weather and letting Kiesl know to come just before the storm, and you folks can be on that plane with us, if you’ve decided to be agreeable.”
Einar handed the baby to Liz, eyes strange, quiet but holding something potentially deadly as he swept the room. “Need to ask you something, Kilgore. Tried it before but this time I’m expecting answers, or nobody’s leaving this place anytime soon, yourself included.”
“You know what this is about. How’d you know him? Know to say those things the other morning, and in…that accent. No mistaking that accent.”
Kilgore wasn’t much interested in engaging in such talk with the “womenfolk” about, particularly his new wife, but as the womenfolk did not appear in the least inclined to find their way outside into the storm just then and Einar crouched there stolidly, spear in hand, standing his ground and not looking much like moving an inch until he’d got his answer, he sighed, shook his head and figured there was no way around it. One last try though; he might as well make one last try at delaying it until sometime when the two of them could have some space to themselves.
“You really want to get into this now?”
A nod from Einar. “Now. I want answers.”
“Ok, answers. Gonna be real direct on this one. Time for some directness. Well, you know I’ve told you I was there when they loaded your friend Andy’s body on the plane for his trip home, but I never did tell you how come, did I?”
“I was there on the raid, Asmundson, when we jumped in where we had no business being, shut that place down, retrieved his body and two others and burned those stinking bamboo cages where they’d held you guys. Most of the little buggers got away, seemed they’d been anticipating some sort of action and had started scattering before we got there, didn’t even stick around to put up much resistance. We got ahold of a few of ’em though, and I did have the opportunity to spend some mighty long hours of quality time with a certain intelligence officer before we cleared out of there, my terms, not his. Fella’d stuck around trying to round up and save a bunch of documents from that tin shack he used as his quarters, near as we could tell--lot of notes from his mostly-failed interrogations, things like that, all stacked up neatly on this oblong grey table with a little stool in front of it, chair behind, ready for him to carry out of there--and we ended up getting them, too."
"The Ðại tá put on a good front at first, lot of bluster and bravado and steely stares from them cold little snake eyes of his, but turns out he wasn’t so brave in the end, not when faced with the sustained application of his own tactics... They seldom are, you know. So yeah, I knew the guy, knew that mongrel speech of his, Russian and English all tied up with bits of his mother tongue, and yeah, I used that knowledge to rile you up and pull you out of that doggone abyss you were sinking into the other morning, and it may have been wrong of me, but I didn’t have a better idea at the time, and seeing at it was a success, I’d do it again.”
“He’s dead then.” Einar’s voice was flat, face blank as he stared straight ahead at the wall, not seeming to see, and the hollowness in his eyes scared Liz a fair bit for she had seen it before, knew what often came after.
“He is indeed dead, and has been for well over three decades. I am witness.”
More silence. Susan and Liz stood near each other, tending the stove and watching little Will as he stirred in his sleep, slowly realizing the significance of what they’d just heard, and not entirely sure how to take it. Might have wished not to have heard, especially Susan, but then, the hearing of a thing is nothing compared to the doing of it, the years of living with and questioning the decisions made--if Kilgore had ever questioned; to look at him, hear him speak, one might wonder--and in that light, she supposed she would rather have heard than not.
Einar didn’t know what to think. Whether to believe the man, even, still wanted to doubt and question and wonder if it was all part of some elaborate deception--to what end he could not guess, but life was full of things like that, and one could not be too cautious--though somewhere deep in his soul, he knew that the tracker’s words rang true. Dead. Shouldn’t have mattered so much to him after all those years, the fate of the man who had been his tormentor and likely the one--other than himself, for that blame would remain, he was sure, until the day he took his last breath--most responsible for Andy’s death. It had been something he’d wondered about on occasion but not for a very long time, and now…he felt dreadfully hollow inside, lost, somehow, wished he could be alone. More alone. If that was even possible, which he doubted. He stood, let out a big breath and faced Kilgore.
“I believe you.”