The following two days—clear, sunny ones, not good for traveling when one is intent on avoiding the leaving of any tracks in newly-fallen snow—passed in relative tranquility, Einar and Kilgore avoiding any major conflicts, if only because the tracker had at some point determined not to start such. He still believed—believed it all the more firmly, actually, having observed things at the cabin for several days—that the entire family needed to come down and spend some time at the house he now shared with Susan, that, or his hilltop log home in Arizona. Either location would do fairly well to provide the security the little family, and especially its head, would need to find the arrangement an acceptable one, and not only would Einar’s closer proximity to the goings on in the valley allow the two of them to discuss plans and strategies for the months to come, it would probably save his life. Not that he’d asked for it to be saved. Probably didn’t even fully recognize the danger, or if he did, considered it a challenge which he must, alone and unaided, face and find a way to overcome. Was the way the man operated, a real benefit most times, but now…well, they’d all be better off down there at the house with Susan for the remainder of the winter.
Wished there was some way to convince him of that—and to convince Liz, for without both their consent, nothing was happening—but he could think of no argument which he had not yet tried, so let the subject go for the time, determined to find a time, and a way, to bring it up again before he had to leave. Whenever that might be. So far, they seemed quite thoroughly stuck in a pattern of crisp, blue skies, windless days and crackling cold nights, as temperatures plunged far below zero. Something of a strange pattern for those mountains, which gave him hope of predicting when it might break. Einar, when asked, had little more idea than the tracker about what they might expect of the weather, so Kilgore settled in for a long wait. Not a bad place to be, not bad at all, and though he missed his bride, he knew Susan would be alright without him for a time, would worry some, as was her way, about how he might be faring up in the snow-locked high country, but as always, had plenty to keep her busy until his return.
On the morning of his third day with the little tribe in the basin, Kilgore’s tranquility—and that of everyone else in the cabin—was shattered by the distant but quickly approaching drone of a small plane. Liz was sitting on the bed feeding Will, Kilgore and Juni working together on the elk bone atlatl darts Einar had previously demonstrated to the reporter—she had shown the tracker her technique and he, experienced with flint knapping but not with the working of bone, finding the process fascinating—and Einar out in the woodshed when the hum first became audible, he hearing it long before the others and rushing to get inside and close down the stove.
Liz stared at him as if he’d gone mad, scrambling in and closing the stove vent, pulling half burnt logs from its interior and rolling them on the dirt of the floor, but soon she heard it as well, all of them tilting heads and straining ears to gain as much information as possible about the intruder, while Einar involuntarily and quite without noticing pressed himself into the ground beside the water barrel.
While none of them could see the plane they could hear it clearly enough to be sure beyond a doubt that it was not the one belonging to Kilgore’s friend Roger Kiesl, which meant that its presence posed them all an immediate and rather severe danger. Silent while the aircraft circled the area, listening, the little group stared at the ceiling or at the ground, no one daring so much as to speak until the faint remnants of its humming presence had thoroughly and completely faded into the distance, over the ridge. Juni was the first to speak.
“It’s here for me, isn’t it?”
Einar said nothing, but Kilgore nodded. “Probably. Sounded like the search was really about to go active, starting in the air and then maybe on the ground if they got any leads. Maybe that’ll be the extent of it, right here. Maybe they’ll…”
He was interrupted by the drone of another motor, not the same plane but flying at a similar elevation, which lazily and with what seemed to all of them excruciating slowness passed over the basin, doubled back and disappeared much as the first had.
“I have to leave. Go back, so they’ll quit looking for me. You said you came for me. Take me back. Let’s go far from here and then step out into the open when the next plane comes over, get ‘rescued’ and you can say you found me.”
Kilgore shook his head, Einar grim and silent. “Too risky, kid. Might work, sure, but there’s also a chance they might fly out along our back trail just out of curiosity, see something they shouldn’t be seeing. Some little glimpse of the cabin, you know, or a place where these folks have worn a trail out to the spot where they hang game in the trees, and the wind hasn’t entirely blown it over yet. Funny thing about tracks in the snow. Short sections of trails can sometimes be preserved when you wouldn’t at all expect it, and then there could be real trouble. Not worth the risk. We just got to wait.”
“But all the planes flying over…”
“I don’t like it any better than anybody does, but what can you do? A storm will come, and then we make our move. Sometimes, you just got to have patience.”
“Patience, sure,” Einar added, picking himself up off the floor and brushing bits of dirt from his clothes, “but no fire. They come over here with infrared looking for her heat signature against the snow and see our chimney, a section of wall that the snow hasn’t totally drifted over yet…”
“Right indeed. Better not have anything to do with fires, until either they give up and go away, or another storm grounds ‘em. Be a bit of a rough few days, pretty chilly as low as the temperature has been getting out there at night, but we’ll all manage. I’m sure it’s not the first time you folks have faced cold camp conditions up here, and at least you got the shelter of the cabin around you. Hey, many folks as we got crammed in here, body heat alone ought to add at least a few degrees to the place, and maybe after a day or so when we see what they’re up to out there, a few candles wouldn’t be excessively unwise…”
Eianr gave his assent and Liz nodded her agreement, also—there was no other way; they just couldn’t take the risk—but looked worried.