With Will needing to eat, the task of dragging in the duffel was left to Einar, who, having been badly needing to get outside since Susan first proposed the idea of performing her series of checks on him, took a quick side-trip by bolting out of the tunnel and into the snowy timber. Storm had eased off some, wind far less ferocious than it had been earlier in the day and snow at times drifting down at an almost leisurely pace, floating to the ground to whiten his hair and cover his tracks, all trace of them soon to be disappearing if he stayed out there long enough, but he didn’t need them covered, for he was soon to be headed back in to the cabin, and Liz. No disappearing that day, either for him or his sign. Enjoying a few more slow breaths of the wide, damp, spruce-scented air he turned, followed his snow-blunted tracks back to the cabin, noting along the way another set of tracks, double set, snowshoes and walking sticks where Bud and Susan had started out on their walk, and he couldn’t help but wonder where they had gone. Just up into the trees it looked like, and he figured he’d better be getting back inside in a pretty good hurry, so he and Liz could have the place to themselves for a few more minutes, before their guests returned. Speaking of guests, Muninn the raven had been unusually skittish since Bud and Susan’s return, not wanting to come anywhere near the cabin or tunnel, but sensing their absence he had sailed down from his treetop perch to join Einar on his walk, flying around him in circles, rasping his joy to the wind and occasionally swooping in to land heavily on a shoulder, leaving Einar in a struggle to keep his balance as the bird chortled mysterious messages into his ear.
Einar made it back to the tunnel just in time; Liz had been about to slide Will into the parka, and go looking for him. She’d known he would go outside, wouldn’t be able to help it and though she might have been able to prevent his venturing out in the storm by offering to retrieve the duffel, herself, she had thought better of attempting thus to effectively confine him in the cabin. Had sounded like something that might not end well at all, which left her tremendously relieved when he showed back up on his own after not too long a time. Nearly too long though, from the looks of him as he struggled his burden in through the tunnel, snow-plastered and shivering so that she wondered if he was ever to remain inside long enough to allow himself to get really, thoroughly warm, or if he would go through the remainder of the winter in a half-frozen state that was proving to be such a hindrance to his beginning to regain some of the weight he had lost. Well, no matter. He was alright, at least by his somewhat questionable standards, or soon would be with the aid of a few sips of hot broth and perhaps a seat near the fire, but not too near, and Liz hurried to help him finish pulling the heavy duffel inside so the door could be secured behind it.
“Thing hasn’t…got any lighter since the long haul up the hill. Figured it’d be lighter now, without all that snow dragging at it.”
“I guess it’s so heavy because of all the goodies they stashed in it, and I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty curious to see what that might involve! Let’s have a look.”
Einar nodded, opened the duffel, warming his hands against a rock at the edge of the stove until his fingers were flexible enough to work the buckles, carefully removing the envelope in its sealed plastic bag and glancing furtively at Liz to make sure she wasn’t watching--was not, at the moment, a much-needed diaper change for the little one having temporarily claimed her attention--before stashing it securely above one of the ceiling-beams, sliding, hiding, further concealing with a handful of the shredded bark they used to help start fires. Before he’d finished with the concealment Liz had noticed what he was about, but she quickly looked away again, said nothing. Had she asked him about it Einar probably wouldn’t have been able to tell her why he felt such a need to conceal the envelope. His reasoning might have had something to do with a possibly-unreasonable fear that she might wish to take it from him, hide or even destroy its documents in a misguided attempt to prevent his getting lost in their contents as he had done before and no doubt would do again, at some point, and nearly equal in his mind might have been an unspoken dread that she would at some point retrieve the envelope herself and read its contents, all of them, not just the page at which she’d glanced in retrieving the wind-scattered papers from the snowy timber for him, and somehow he just couldn’t stand the thought of her doing so.
Liz did not ask, though, did not bring up the matter of his having hidden the packet or let him know that she had seen, let him go on thinking he’d done a quick and effective job of stashing it away. That task of his finished and Liz once more able to focus some of her attention on the project at hand Einar delved once more into the duffel, first removing the zippered soft case which he’d previously inspected--a faded olive green, in contrast to the white of the duffel and chutes--Einar pulled out the FN rifle with its blotches of the thick, chicken-poo green paint that someone in the way-back past had decided was the best way to make the rifles blend in with the Rhodesian bush…had been pretty effective, too, as he remembered…and after briefly looking the weapon over and checking it he shouldered the thing, got himself into a crouch and aimed at the door--not as easy as he would have liked, arms cramping up and trying to tremble at supporting its weight for very long, leaving him shaking his head in disgust at his own current weakness--a posture which he held as a series of soft scrapes and stomps announced the arrival of a human presence in the tunnel.
Which is how it happened that Bud Kilgore found himself staring right down the bore of that rifle as he crawled in through the tunnel and opened the door, Einar the picture of poise and concentration behind it--scary sight, in itself--and the tracker stopped, eyes wide as he motioned to Susan to go back, get out of there. Kilgore himself did not move, silently assessing the situation as well as he could, prepared, in that split second, to attempt careful negotiation as the fugitive had him dead to rights, nowhere to run, and at the same time he was worried about Liz and the baby and what danger might exist for them with Asmundson in such a state, his eyes flicking across the room in search of them but none of it was to be necessary, no negotiation, no quick action as the gun, at second glance, was clearly empty, safe, and he let out a little sigh of relief. Wasn’t entirely sure, though, that Einar, in that moment, realized the gun was empty or recognized the situation for what it was, that he recognized much of anyone just then, the man’s face entirely unreadable and Kilgore not at all sure what might become of the two of them should he go ahead and enter that room. Best say something first, and he did, addressing not Einar but Liz as he slowly pushed his snowshoes into the cabin ahead of him.
“Still blowing pretty good out there, but not nearly as much as it was earlier. Boy, something sure smells good in here. Hope you got a little snack ready, ‘cause me and Sue, we really worked up an appetite tromping around in that snow out there!”
Einar blinked, glanced up at him, looking somewhat startled by his presence, lowered the rifle and gave him a big, wild grin.
“Now that’s better. Didn’t give you that thing so you could gut-shoot me with it, Asmundson! What’s the idea here? You forget just who it was out there, or is this the way you’d really like to handle company, when they show up in your basin here? I suspect the latter, yeah, that’s probably it, and I can’t say I blame you one bit. Kinda feel the same way myself, and we’ll be out of your hair real soon here.”
“No problem with your being here,” Einar took a conciliatory tone, not quite realizing the level of consternation he’d just caused on the part of his guests but possessing a vague sense that something wasn’t quite right and that he might have been the cause of it. “I was just seeing how the rifle balanced, giving it a try. Real fine piece you brought me. Good to have one in my hands again.”
“Oh is that all? Just seeing how it balanced? Huh. Could have fooled me. But you didn’t. Not for long, anyway. Come on, how about you put that thing away for now, and we can all have some grub? Plenty of time for looking through the rest of that bag, later.”