Wasting no time, not wanting to allow the trail to go cold—or get covered with snow, considering the unpredictable nature of spring weather in the high country—the feds wasted no time getting Bud Kilgore and a team of twelve agents from three different agencies up to the spot where he had found Juni after the avalanche. Setting a chopper down as near as they could come to the slide site itself, they unloaded the tents, duffels and crates of supplies needed to set up a base camp from which they would conduct their investigation and, they hoped, finally gain some useful new clues as to the whereabouts of their fugitive. And perhaps even track him down. Should that time come they fully intended to call in reinforcements, air support, round-the clock monitoring by satellite and drone, and any other resources they might find available but for the moment, twelve men on the ground were deemed to be enough.
The following few days would, Kilgore knew, prove critical to the sort of future Einar and his family might be able to have in the area, probability of those agents finding some sign of the trio fairly high, even with all the knowledge, trickery and persuasion he might be able to employ in the prevention of such progress. It was to be quite a challenge
* * * *
True to his word Einar did drink, going at that mug of tea with a determination usually reserved for scaling nearly impossible slopes and pursuing enemies through the timber, keeping at it despite the fact that with nearly every try he would choke, splutter and end up inhaling enough of the stuff that he was thrown into a desperate, barely productive and rather exhausting fit of coughing so that before long Liz and Susan were begging him to stop, give it a break. He did not stop, determined to down an amount sufficient to convince them to quit pestering him about other, less acceptable alternatives, but the coughing and choking just got worse until eventually he lost the entire contents of his stomach, apologizing to Susan as he dropped down to the tile floor and did his best to clean up. Susan let him finish before lifting, helping him back into the chair where he stared into the mug for a long minute as if weighing his options before pushing it aside, eyes half closed. Barely had the energy to hold up his head, let alone make another go at the tea. Enough. Enough of that. Not doing any good. You had enough of it. Trouble was he’d hardly got anything down, lost what he had and was no better off than he’d been at the beginning.
Though really wanting to press the issue, neither Liz nor Susan wanted to be responsible for causing him to end up with a lung full of tea and drown, which seemed the likely outcome should he accidentally aspirate some of the stuff and not be able to cough strongly enough to get it back out. Watching, wishing she could help but not knowing how Liz found herself angry with him, with the entire situation, but more than anything with the fact that he’d done this, allowed himself to get into such a state that his muscles were failing him and he could barely swallow anymore without choking and nearly dying. It was ridiculous, and while she knew he now seemed to agree that things had gone too far and to want to do something about it, the reality was that it might well be too late for those efforts to save him.
Will, tiring of the fun of exploring the couch and studying the varying colors and patterns of one of Susan’s patchwork quilts, had squirmed and wriggled his way to the floor, and she went to him, scooped him up and sat beside Einar. She wanted him to hold his son, but he was cold, shaking pretty hard once again, and she didn’t think it would be safe so she just sat there, allowing the little one to hoist his front half up onto the table, balance on legs nearly strong enough to begin carrying him as he took steps, and babble on until finally Einar noticed him and looked up, gave him a tired grin.
“What... What are you talking about? You trying to…get up and go explore, or what?”
To which Will answered with a bevy of garbled but very enthusiastic sounds which seemed to Einar to make perfect sense as he nodded once more, wishing he could stay awake long enough to answer, but feeling the cold hand of unconsciousness—or something; wasn’t quite like anything he remembered feeling before—closing its iron grip around his middle, numbing face, hands and taking the color from the world. He held his breath, eyes closed, straining against it. Had to stay awake, because he had to tell them something. Tell Liz something. Only he couldn’t remember what it was. She was there, and he reached for her, found her hand, staring, and no words would come. Figured his mouth must be too dry, fumbled with the mug but only succeeded in tipping it, spilling most of the liquid before Liz righted it, held it for him so he could take a sip. Better. For some reason, it went down this time. Probably because he wasn’t trying so hard. Had forgotten to try, and the stuff had simply slid down his throat. Could probably talk now if he was to try, only he still couldn’t remember the thing he’d been meaning to say. Something about the ridge, and the feds, and…
Yeah. Got to let them know it’s safe here. Safer. That guy around, watching… Would give them some warning. Better listen to him if he gives them warning. Said he knew Susan, had met Liz that time... Which all seemed an awful lot to communicate to them. Awfully complicated. But he had to try, before he got lost again. Liz was watching him, so it seemed a good time to try.
“Bill? The man you met last night? That Bill?”
He nodded. “Watching. Safe. Be careful here but…don’t worry. He’ll warn you if..” Darkness again, and then he was snapping back awake, shaking his head against a hollow roaring sound which seemed to be drowning out Will’s little chatterings and whatever it was trying to say to him. Didn’t work, but at least they knew.
Liz repeated it, even though he didn’t seem to be hearing. “You’ll warn us, too. I want you to warn us, to be here with us. We need you…”