The scene was a mess, masses of solidified, cement-like snow jumbled with smashed rock and ruined trees, none of it making a tremendous amount of sense to the agents as they began their investigation, but their greatest interest was not in the path of the avalanche, itself, but in the untouched slopes around it. There, they hoped to find evidence that the young reporter had not been alone at the time of her death, that she had been accompanied, perhaps, by their fugitive. What they did find interested them even more than the tracks they had sought, and was to prove a turning point in their investigation.
* * *
Liz did not think it was a particularly good idea, Einar’s trying another drink when the last one had so nearly ended in disaster, hated the idea of his inhaling the stuff and ending up in an emergency situation when it seemed help, and the potential for improvement, was really was so near, but she could not refuse him. Knew he was making a tremendous sacrifice in consenting to allow Susan to help him with hydration, going against all of his instincts, so if he wanted to try again to have a drink before undergoing what in his mind must be a greater ordeal than she could imagine, the least she could do was to pour him some more tea, which she did.
Animated by the knowledge that this was his last chance, last hope, only way to avoid the thing which was surely coming, otherwise, Einar went at that tea with a sincerity and determination which Liz could not help but admire, this time managing to get a little trickle down his throat before gagging and choking again, needing to cough but able only to put out a feeble effort which barely did the job. Liz watched him with tears in her eyes, wished she could help but did not know how. Determination could only go so far, could not always overcome stark physical realities, even for a fellow long accustomed to doing exactly that, and with fair success. He wanted to try again, but she gently pushed the mug aside, laid her hand over his own.
“Wait a little while. Let yourself rest, give Susan a chance. She’ll be back soon.”
Shook his head, glanced around with wild eyes—little Will asleep on the couch, door cracked where Susan had gone down to the basement, and the windows…especially the windows. But he made himself keep still. “Know I agreed to…but if I let her…it’s all over. Done.”
“What’s all over?”
An expansive gesture. Everything. Everything would apparently be over, or so he thought. “No, it’s not so bad as that. It’s just Ringer’s Lactate, water with a little sodium, calcium, potassium, you know that. You read the label. Nothing will be over. Really. Just try to see it for what it is, just the mechanics of it, cells needing hydration, and this is the most efficient way to do it right now. We can talk about the other stuff later. I know there’s other stuff, reasons why you don’t want to do this, but that all has to come later.”
“Got to do it myself. Drink.”
“Oh, you’ll have plenty to do yourself. Lots of hard work. This is just the start. You’ve got to be able to swallow if you’re going to do it yourself. Let Susan try this. It will help.”
He said nothing more, eyes closed, head sagging, lips drawn back in a pained grimace and Liz, though not sure whether this was due to acceptance or to his simply having run out of the energy to speak, was glad. He could be very convincing most times, and she did not want him talking her out of this, convincing her to release him from his word. He would, she knew, otherwise abide by his agreement, allow the procedure, and that was the way it had to be. She could see that. He simply didn’t have anything left with which to fight. No energy, no strength; she hated to see him like that, prayed everything might go smoothly so he could soon be himself again.
Susan was back then, Einar sitting with head bowed, resigned, as she sought again to find a vein she could use with the smaller cannula, used every trick she knew, tried for a long time but failed. Einar, having allowed himself to let go and drift a bit—not at all difficult, under present circumstances—in the hopes that this might help prevent his reacting to Susan’s ministrations as an attack, as he had nearly done the first time around, was not immediately aware of the results. Of the fact it was all now a moot point, all of his back and forth with Liz, with himself, the deciding.
Leaving him where he sat, nearly asleep with head resting on the table, Susan led Liz into the pantry. Both were silent for a moment, knowing the implications. Liz wouldn’t give up.
“How can we make it work? Should I give it a try?”
“Have you ever done it before?”
“No… What else can we try, then?”
“We can get someone who is more experienced. Liz, I’ve taken classes, done this on Bud and on others in a classroom setting down at the firehouse, but never on someone in Einar’s situation. This would be difficult even for a seasoned nurse, and it’s beyond my level of experience.”
“There is no one else.”
“I know. I wish Bud were here, or that we could bring in my friend who works down at the hospital, but neither of those are options. We’ve just got to get some water into him, warm him up a little more—he’s really cold still, and that’s part of the problem, the way everything slows down, blood gets drawn into the core—get his blood pressure up, and then I think we’d have a better chance.”
“I’ll work on it.”
“Even though he was willing, in the end, to let me do this, he’ll be happy that it didn’t work, won’t he? I saw his eyes when I was getting things ready, and I don’t think what I saw there had anything to do with a fear of needles, did it? Nothing like that. Seemed he was really dreading it, for reasons of his own…”
“Yes, he has his reasons. I don’t know when he’ll be happy. Maybe when he’s dead, he’ll be happy.”
“Liz, don’t talk like that. He’s going to get through this, we all are. Now let’s get back out there and start trying again with the tea. We haven’t tried a straw. Maybe that will make a difference. If not, I’ll try something thicker that might be easier to swallow without so much risk of inhaling it. And we’ll get a blanket, and some more hot water bottles. This isn’t over."
Only perhaps it was, for when they got back, Einar was gone…