Juni’s memorial had been heavily attended by men from the several agencies assigned to the Mountain Task Force. They had, in fact, been keeping her under fairly close surveillance ever since the time nearly two years prior when she had become the only one ever known to secure an interview with the fugitive Einar Asmundson, and live to tell—and write about—the tale. If she could find him once, they had reasoned, perhaps she might be able to do so again, might have some clue as to where he was staying.
Their watchfulness had grown as winter approached, the general consensus being that—especially if the woman Elizabeth Riddle, known at one time to have been staying with him and known also to be expecting his child, had given birth to a living baby—he would not have been spending the winter in the high country wandering about and practically living as an animal as he had done before. One thing to do that as an individual on the run, but if he now had a family, they expected he surely would have fallen back on the local resources they suspected must have aided him in the past, hiding his family, if not also himself, with one of them for the harsh winter months. Which had provided a unique opportunity for those still hoping to secure his capture, and they’d redoubled their efforts at local surveillance. And in doing so, had lost track of Juni, who had seemed to simply drop off the face of the earth. No credit card purchases, no cell phone use—the device had, in fact, been found out behind a motel in Clear Springs, offering no clear leads as to her whereabouts—and no sign of her for nearly two months.
Now, with spring coming and the opportunity to use the winter to their advantage quickly slipping through their fingers, Juni’s reappearance seemed to offer something of a last chance. Even if she was rather past a state in which she could be brought in and questioned. Despite the fact that she had already left this world, they knew there were ways in which she could still speak to them, and the advantage, in this case, was that she was not equipped to refuse, as a living person might have been.
To this end, they had, before releasing it for burial, sent her body over the objection of the county coroner to the FBI Crime lab in Virginia, where every advantage of modern technology had been applied in an effort to discover where she had spent the past several weeks, and with whom. Results had been somewhat inconclusive—no human DNA present except her own—but one thing had been certain: her diet over the past weeks had in no way resembled that of either a lost and semi-starved backcountry skier, or a young woman living in close proximity to human civilization. There had been none of the usual processed packpacking foods, nor any sign of the sorts of things a person might be expected to eat had they been staying in even a remote cabin or house where one of the locals might have Asmundson stashed for the winter. Her diet had, in fact, apparently consisted almost entirely of berries which were not in season, a few starchy roots whose source had for months been covered by numerous feet of snow, and a baffling variety of big game meat.
While there were things they could not be sure of, it was clear that the young reporter had been eating the meat of elk, bighorn sheep and at least one other variety of large, hoofed mammal over the last twenty-four hours of her life, and they knew it was nowhere near reasonable to think that a young woman traveling alone in the snowbound high country would have been able to locate, kill and carry meat from all of those animals, over the course of the several weeks for which she had been missing. She had not been alone up there, and in addition to the mystery of her stomach contents, they had found on her clothing and sleeping bag animal hairs ranging from bear to elk to wolverine, which suggested that not only she had contact with the fugitive family, but had stayed some time with them wherever they were staying. Which was appearing more and more to be some remote location nowhere in proximity to civilization, rather than the cabin of some local sympathizer.
A change in their theory, but as their local investigation had been going nowhere at all, it was welcomed. Was the clue they had been looking for, and breathed new life into an investigation which had for some months been stalled. He was up there, their fugitive, was alive and doing well enough to have taken and preserved all manner of big game, and this young reporter had apparently been in contact with him not too long before her untimely death. The first thing to do, they reasoned, would be to make a trip to the site of the avalanche and see if they could find her backtrail, and the man to take them there was Bud Kilgore, who had recovered the body.
The call came late that morning, Bud being summoned to Mountain Task Force for a meeting and perhaps, they’d said, a job which might keep him for a week or so, and though they had refused to give further details over the phone, he had strongly suspected it must be related to Juni’s death and the pursuing of some lead they believed it gave them. Silent as he packed his kit, Kilgore ran through the possibilities in his mind. Most things, he could handle, could lead them astray in ways which they wouldn’t even expect, throw them onto false trails and protect his guests and their future, but one major concern revolved around the possibility that perhaps this “job” was simply a ruse designed to get him away from the house so they could search it without his objection or presence. This, he doubted. Had they suspected him of harboring the fugitives, the likely response would have been a midnight raid with all the force they could bring down. Knowing him and his capabilities—and those of the fugitive they sought—they never would have risked tipping him off to their possible actions, and spoiling the entire thing.
That was the scenario he quickly spelled out to Einar as he packed to leave, doing his best to reassure the man that the place would be safe in his absence, that Susan knew where everything was kept, and how things worked, and would show him as needed. “Should be back in a week or so, it’s looking like, and I want you to stick around until then if you would. Even if it snows. With things all uncertain and the feds likely out in the backcountry trying to recreate Juni’s last days, I’d hate for your family to end up crossing paths with any of them, understand?”
Einar nodded. Had no liking for the situation, but understood.
“Good deal. You watch over this place then, take care of your family and mine until I get back, and take care of yourself too, man. I mean that.”
With which the tracker was gone, an embrace and a quick kiss for his bride on his way out the door, and they all watched as he crept down the driveway in the old pickup truck, each alone with his or her own apprehensions about the coming days.