Though slightly irritated at Einar for having apparently gone out of his way to end up wet and cold on the hike, Liz was generally pleased with the results of his having been required to carry Will. The responsibility had seemed to help keep him on track and more thoroughly connected to the world around him than he might otherwise have been, and as she helped him free the little guy from the parka-pouch in which he had ridden, she resolved to let him do more of the carrying.
Cleaning the single rabbit which the trapline had that day yielded, Liz elected to add it directly to a stew rather than freezing it with the other game that lingered in their cache-trees, fresh meat always being welcome and their goal, after all, being to dry all of that meat ahead of the coming warmer months. Einar, while she worked and after finishing his midday allotment of broth, stew and cedar berry tea, started on his own project, spreading out rifle, pistol and all the ammo Bud had brought, sorting, cleaning, pondering, and when she asked him what he was doing, he just stared blankly at the wall for a while.
“What are you up to? Going hunting?”
Still no answer, Einar silent until he’d settled in his mind a question that had been bothering him for some time. “No, not hunting. Need to cache one of these weapons in case somehow we end up needing one and unable to return to the cabin, and I’ve been going back and forth for weeks on which one it ought to be.”
“Well, the pistol’s handier to carry, but I guess depending on the circumstances, you might want the rifle, instead.”
“Yeah, that’s my dilemma. Was always more comfortable with a rifle in my hands, really, but that’s why I want it stashed away out there where we could get at it if anything went wrong here. Can’t use either one out here in daily life, can’t risk making the noise, so I figure it’s probably best to stash the rifle nearby, keep the pistol on me at all times and count on using it to fight my way to the rifle, if it ever comes to that.”
“I know you’ll miss having the rifle around here, since I still see you every day using it in your exercises and spending a lot of time looking downrange with it, and dry-firing, but what you’re saying does make sense. How do you plan to store it?
“Long skinny willow basket, willow tube, you might call it, waterproofed with pitch, and before I slide it in there, I’ll wrap in in a well-greased hide to protect it some from humidity. Not gonna bury it, just hide it up in a tree probably like we’ve done with a lot of the jerky. Someplace not too far from here, real accessible but far enough so that if we have to run, or come home one day to find the place…taken, we’ll still be able to get at it.”
“Sounds good. If you get the basket done, maybe that would be a project for tomorrow, instead of the trapline?”
He nodded. “Sure,” and went back to work, weaving furiously at the storage tube, his concern over their situation having grown significantly as he thought about it, about how complacent they really had become, in comparison to his first couple of years on the run, when he hardly spent the night twice in the same place and covered miles each day. A good life it had become, and more suitable for a child’s first year than would the constant movement have been, but it had come with its dangers, too. When finally the day ended and Einar crept into bed--unwilling, wanted instead to creep up into the cliffs and stand watch for the night, but he had promised Liz--it was with a sense of tremendous unease that he at last gave himself over to sleep after hours of lying wide awake and listening at Liz’s side, body full and satisfied after her carefully-prepared supper of rabbit stew, but mind more uneasy than it had been in some time.
When they came, it was with no warning. No great crashing of thunder or rumble of rotors betrayed the small team that worked its way with extreme caution and only slightly less speed up the backside of the red ridge and over, dropping quickly down into one of the numerous timbered draws, steep nearly to the point of not being navigable, which led to the basin. Pausing frequently to check the more obvious approaches for booby traps but finding none, the men gained confidence as they went. Had been watching for weeks, eyes so high up in the sky as to be invisible to the subjects down below, un-detectible, and the men had learned their routine, knew roughly what to expect and knew, with the exception of some nights when the male subject spent hours wandering about the clearing and nearby woods. That past night, according to their information, had not been such a night, everyone in the cabin right where they ought to be. Contained. Neat and tidy.
Considering past failed attempts to capture Asmundson and the disastrous losses incurred as a result, a drone strike had received serious discussion in the week after, with the help of satellite imagery, the identity of the cabin’s residents was confirmed, but the idea had ultimately been rejected. Aside from obvious legal concerns should the matter ever become public--hardly an insurmountable obstacle in the present political climate, but still something to be considered--was the fact that the raid, if done in such a manner, would have to be kept quiet, and so far as the public would know, Asmundson might still be running free up in his mountain kingdom. Which was, on a public relations level, nothing short of unaffordable. The man had to be taken--alive if possible, and if not, at least semi-intact so his demise could be publicly extolled and exploited. A job, considering past history, more suited to an elite military unit, but wanting to keep matters in the family, the Agent in Charge had called on the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team to carry out the task.
Einar might have slept right through the entire thing, had it not been for the dreams. They had been tormenting him for nights, worsening, it seemed, even as his body began to do a bit better with the influx of more food, and as a result his sleep had been light, restless, slightest sound snapping him to a wakefulness so acute as to be almost painful if he didn’t get up and wander for a bit to settle it, and it was in this way, looking out through the crack they’d taken to leaving in the door overnight for a bit of fresh air, that he happened to see the shadows, knew them immediately for what they were, and acted…
They hadn’t known about the tunnel. Somehow, they hadn’t known, had thought the tiny cabin a one-door affair, but Einar knew about it, had planned for this day since before they’d been living full-time in the cabin and had gone thorough all the possible scenarios in his head, immediate action drills in which he defended against just such an attack, and though most of them had him drawing fire, covering his family’s retreat and almost certainly losing his life in the process--acceptable trade; he expected no less--this morning it did not go that way, drawing fire not even an option as he found himself unable to see Liz in the chaos of gas and smoke they’d sent in through the shattered front door, ears ringing from the blast, unable to find her, feeling Will and grabbing him from his bed--wrong, all wrong, it was supposed to be Liz doing this, he protecting the two of them as they fled to safety, his life for theirs, but things don’t always go as planned--wrapping him in the mountain goat fur for protection and shoving the little bundle down into the back of his shirt, after which everything centered around being where the bullets were not, for the bullets were starting to come, shielding the little life that wriggled wide awake and somewhat indignant against his back. Eyes stinging, lungs acing and throat trying to swell shut with the burning acridity of that gas, Einar scrambled his way out of the tunnel and stumbled before he knew it back against the cliff, feeling it before he saw, gasping raggedly at the fresh, spruce scented air, blinking hard as he made for the timber at a low run, searching for Liz but seeing no sign of her.
No one back there, no enemy. Strange. Figured surely someone would have been covering the back, but they must not have been or they’d have had him already…and then he realized that he was being covered by their own smoke where it rolled dense and white out of the tunnel behind him, and soon enough they’d notice, as well, and would be on him…
Hearing a commotion out front, he dived for the cover of a nearby cluster of small, close-growing firs, lay pressing himself into the earth, rifle trained on the scene down below as he sought frantically any sign that Liz was still there, hoping she’d made it out but seeing nothing to indicate either way. Needed to go back for her, had to go back, couldn’t leave her behind to face whatever fate might await her in the hands of the enemy, but he couldn’t do it, not with little Will on his back. His own life he would have willingly given for a chance at rescuing and freeing her, but her son…must not be carried back into the line of fire. He could leave the child, come back for him after, and was about to do so, wrap him tightly in the hide so he couldn’t crawl away and stash him amongst the rocks where he would be shielded until the action stopped but something caught his eye, motion down below, and it was Liz, and she was running, meeting his eye, seeing Will, nodding and then very deliberately cutting in the opposite direction, running back towards her pursuers, who had finally breached the dissipating wall of smoke and they’d seen her; he counted twelve shots before finally she fell…