Einar guessed at the meaning of the tone even before Bud could react and he was on his feet, leaving the table and crouching at a front window with rifle at the ready, watching. Far below the vehicle, a tan pickup truck which upon Kilgore’s quick inspection with binoculars looked to have two occupants, appeared tiny amongst the trees at the bottom of the half mile drive, vulnerable, at that distance, to everything from long range rifle fire to the pre-arranged snow and rock slides which could be touched off from the ridge above by anyone knowing the location of the charges…
Einar did not find any of this particularly reassuring, not even when Bud quickly spelled it all out for him, all these safety measures, and was not in the least placated when the tracker assured him that he recognized the truck, that it belonged to friends. That was the worst part, the thing that confirmed to him the sure existence of a plot whose details he knew he ought to have previously guessed, willing collusion on the part of the tracker, apparently, in their upcoming capture, and with that knowledge came a fierce determination to see things go another way, to keep them all free.
“Shouldn’t be coming up here unannounced, that’s for doggone sure,” the tracker allowed. “but they don’t mean any harm at all, have no idea you’re here, and aren’t gonna find out, either, if you just slow down and use some sense. Now. Remember the time you folks stayed in Sue’s basement, a good while back?”
Einar wavering, unsure. Maybe the man wasn’t in on it, after all. Perhaps he’d been fooled, also, kept in the dark as to the details and allowed to believe that he was simply helping his friends, even as he signed their death warrant. “No basement. Not going down there. Trap us down there like rats in a barrel, that’s what they’d do. Have to get up into the timber.”
“You’re not making any sense, man! How’re you gonna get up into that timber without leaving tracks a blind fella could follow, in all this new snow? They’re friends, I’m telling you, and the only thing we got to do is to hide you folks until they leave, and everything’ll be just fine again. Stop and think about it for a minute, it’ll start to make sense. You’re just real short on sleep, that’s all. And food. And probably a lot of other stuff, too, and you know how strange the world can get to looking at times like that. Come on, down the stairs. They won’t be here long, and you folks’ll be safe down there.”
Liz was staring at him, pleading with her eyes, seemed to have bought Kilgore’s line, but Einar did not answer. Wanted to leave, had his boots on already, having spent the better part of the night in them, and was busily urging Liz into hers, helping her on with her parka and sliding Will down into the protective warmth of its hood. Had to hurry, had to get something of a head start on these invaders, these would-be captors, for with fresh snow on the ground and a calm, clear day, pursuers would be at a definite advantage. Almost an unbeatable advantage, if looked at realistically. Probably the best he could hope for would be to get Liz and the little one up onto the ridge and then do his best to hold off their pursuers long enough to allow his little family to escape. Deal with the two in the truck, create a diversion, lay, if he was allowed the time and managed not to get himself shot too soon, a false trail or two which might mislead whoever would be coming to back them up and cause enough confusion to give Liz a chance, maybe get away himself and hope to meet them later, but more than likely not.
Real dim prospects, slight chance of success but sometimes you’ve got to take what’s handed to you, and in almost every case, if backed up to the wall, it was better to go down fighting than to… Yeah, not sitting there and waiting for their capture to be secured, and with Liz dressed and ready—she’d been quick about it, though appearing very reluctant and inexplicably sad at the same time—he took her by the hand and made his dash for the door. Only to find it blocked by Bud Kilgore, who could make quite an imposing obstruction of himself, when he chose.
“Hang on, Asmundson. There’s a carpet of fresh, untouched white all over everything out there. Where do you think you’re going that they won’t see and follow, if they were the sort to want to be following? Much as you may dislike it, you folks are here for the present. Here to stay. Not going anywhere, not until we either get another storm to cover you, or arrange a trip by vehicle…”
Rifle coming up just a bit, Einar’s grip tightening. “Out of the way, Kilgore. Wasting my time. Have to get up the ridge, make a go of it.”
“You wouldn’t go very far. For a number of reasons. Now give me that rifle, Sergeant Asmundson. You taken this one plenty far enough.”
Truck reaching the halfway point, Einar getting desperate. They were running out of time. Glanced around for another way out, but Susan was standing in front of the basement door, right hand resting down perilously close to the .45 that she always wore around the place, and besides, he wanted to leave by way of the porch, take advantage of what little concealment it offered, should someone already be watching from the air. A trap, all of it, as he had suspected from the beginning, and he cursed his complacency in allowing them to be led into such a bind.
Might still be a chance, and not wanting to shoot the tracker—sound would give them away—he let the rifle hang on its sling, made a lunge with his knife, handily knocking the big man from his feet and landing astride him, blade darting for his throat and nearly striking home before a sickening blow to the base of his neck halted all immediate ambitions and sent him cascading into a fractured, splintering maelstrom of blackness, world falling away around him...