Four of the six long nettle strings draped with thinly sliced venison, jerky in the making, Einar and Liz were working away to fill the others when they first heard the plane. Approaching low along the ridge and seeming to follow it, Liz at first thought perhaps Roger Kiesl had retuned, bringing Bud and Susan for another visit--but Einar knew better. It was too soon, and besides, this plane was smaller, the sound of its engine slightly more high-pitched than Kiesl’s. The man could, of course, have more than one plane, but still he greatly doubted Kilgore would risk another trip so soon. Both because of the feds and the need to prevent them becoming suspicious, and because surely he would know that Einar would prove anything but a welcoming host, should he put in another untimely appearance. Not that the knowledge had ever stopped him, before… But, it would not be Kilgore. He was sure of it. Which left several other options.
Not more skiers, he hoped. Or another search and rescue team seeking lost and injured ones, as before… If skiers, they would find themselves sorely disappointed in the wet, soggy condition of the snow--stuff would be hard as cement after one cold night, nothing powdery about it; hoped they’d brought their rock skis--and surely would not stay long. And the chances of another rescue being called for up in their basin, a second for the winter…he found it unlikely. But possible, considering the obvious avalanche danger in the basin, and the fact that others had considered it a good spot for skiing. That wet snow certainly could have slid when the sun hit it a few hours previously, but that would hardly have left time for anyone to get trapped, summon help or have it summoned, and expect rescuers already on scene. Would have been way too fast. The search, then…
Being a fairly warm afternoon with full sun on the land, he doubted the plane would be using infrared to seek whatever it sought; hoped not, for their thoroughly heated chimney rocks would likely show up quite plainly, even against the sun-warmed background and through their shielding layer of trees. And the smoke… Hurrying before the plane could draw any nearer, he was out through the tunnel with a quick scramble whose speed rather baffled Liz and launching himself up onto the roof--a feat which later he would have no clear idea how he accomplished--to push a flat stone over the chimney opening. Meanwhile Liz, hearing him up there and having some idea what he was doing, tightly closed both stove door and air inlet, boxing in and smothering the remaining fire. Wisps of smoke crept out around the door in places to slightly dim the air in the cabin, but it remained breathable, and Einar soon returned, breathing hard and blinking at the contrast, snow-reflected sunlight to near darkness.
He nodded, collapsing exhaustedly beside the cooling stove, holding his left shoulder as if he’d injured it somehow, which Liz did not at all doubt, considering the haste with which he had accomplished the maneuver. “Smoke would’ve been a problem, might already have been, if there was much of it coming out while they were at a good distance and could see. Next to nothing showing just now, so I’m hoping…”
“I was using pretty dry stuff today, mostly old grey aspen that I brought in before the storm, and had the stove going pretty hot here for the last while, to heat things up for drying the jerky. There shouldn’t have been much smoke at all.”
“Good…good. This new snow should’ve covered…all my tracks up to the spring and back, and…we haven’t left too many around here since. Just under the timber. Not too visible. I didn’t leave much…roof…not much sign up there, only one little spot near chimney… ”
“Whoa, slow down and catch your breath for a minute. Are you Ok? You’ve got to breathe.”
“Yeah. Breathing.” He coughed, held his breath, listening. “Doggone thing’s…it’s circling back, isn’t it?”
Liz listened for a moment, tilting her head to pick up on a subtle shift in the plane’s sound, something Einar’s ears had detected first, even over his struggle for breath. Often she had wondered how his hearing could possibly be so keen, and had finally come to the conclusion that it must be as much through some mysterious sense not entirely related to the ears that he was able to detect the approach and actions of aircraft so long before she had any inkling they might be in the area. Perhaps he felt vibrations through the ground, or the air, or who knew what? Sometime, she’d have to ask him. But not just then, for she could hear it, too. “Yes. Turning. I think it’s coming back.”
Stomach down, Einar flattened himself against the floor as if it would help prevent his being seen, Liz on the ground next to him. She was watching him carefully as the plane approached, lower this time, remembering with a cold, creeping dread their last experience with aircraft in the area, the rescue of those injured skiers, planes, a chopper landing in the basin and Einar deciding somewhere in the process that the whole thing was a ruse designed to secure their capture, an event which he’d somehow come to see as so imminent and inevitable that he must take immediate, irreversible action to prevent his family being taken into captivity, live free or die, and she was pretty sure it had nearly happened… She shuddered at the memory of it, glanced about for the rabbit stick and was glad to see it close to hand, leaning on the bed, instinctively inched over to position herself a bit closer to Will. Einar looked steady though, listening with furrowed brow and only slightly wild eyes to the buzzing whine of the little plane as it made another pass, more ridge than basin, it seemed, and she found this somewhat encouraging, hoped Einar might see it the same way. Which he did. Almost.
Way they’re flying, perhaps they’re not looking at us. Or even for us. We’ve got to hope…and got to be ready. Gonna be one long, hard slog through the snow if I have to run today. Won’t be able to keep up with her. Will have to hole up somewhere and make a stand…let her go on ahead and hold them off for as long as I can with the rifle and anything else I can come up with…should be able to come up with plenty…to give her time. Got to give her time if they come.