That evening Einar, rifle still in hand but finding himself less needful of constantly patrolling the place with it, now that Susan was back, resumed the exercises he’d begun doing with the weapon up at the cabin, holding it over his head, straight out from his body, striving to strengthen arms seriously lacking in muscle and prepare himself for whatever might come. A worthy goal, so far as Liz and Susan were concerned, but perhaps not the best use, at present, of what little strength and energy he was managing to obtain from the small but growing portions of food he’d begun taking in. When sometime after supper he found and began using Bud’s weight bench in the library room, Susan half wanted to take the thing out to the garage and hide it, but decided against such measures, as it was plain that the activity, if perhaps somewhat ill-advised just then, was helping Einar get through his time at the house. Not wise to take such a thing from a person in his position, she figured, not unless something existed with which to replace it. As all the potential replacements which seemed likely to have a similar effect were either impossible to arrange or a good deal more detrimental to the fugitive’s continued existence, she left the weights alone and did not trouble him about their use. Not until later that evening, at least.
Liz, finished helping out with the supper dishes and anxious to be of more assistance to their gracious hostess, if possible, had made her way at Susan’s suggestion out to the one heated greenhouse on the place, and started working to transplant a batch of rosemary and parsley seedlings that Susan had earlier started. These potted herbs would, later in the spring, make up a substantial part of Susan’s business as individual customers showed up to purchase them for their own gardens, but especially in the fulfillment of contracts with the local farm supply and grocery stores. Will—having been smuggled out beneath one of Susan’s shawls to prevent the possibility of his being spotted by any eyes, camera or otherwise, that might be watching the place—played happily in a pile of potting soil by his mother’s side as she worked, soon covered from head to toe in soil, but gurgling happily the entire time.
Meanwhile Susan, working in the kitchen, hadn’t heard anything from Einar in quite a while and finally went to check on him, finding him flat on his back on the library floor, rifle across his chest. He wasn’t moving, did not appear to be awake and she thought at first that he might have overdone it with his exercises and passed out or even had some trouble with his heart, but when she knelt beside him it seemed that he was simply sleeping, a suspicion which was confirmed when, sensing her presence, he rolled suddenly away from her and came to his feet all in one swift if somewhat unsteady motion, wide awake and ready to meet whatever trouble might be lurking. A moment’s confusion, Susan keeping very still in the hopes that Einar would figure things out before acting, which he did, giving her a sheepish grin and sinking back to an uneasy crouch on the floor.
“Sure didn’t mean to be sleeping on duty. No excuse for that sort of thing.”
“Oh, you weren’t on duty. It was my turn.”
A shrug, Einar clearly not buying the offer of absolution, but not interested in contesting it, either. Laying aside the rifle he rose, hoisted two of Bud’s dumbbells and took them over to the weight bench, standing beside it.
Done with keeping silent on the matter, Susan sat down beside him. “How about giving it a rest, coming to the kitchen for some more of that banana milkshake. That seems like a good evening snack…”
Einar shook his head. “Thanks, but not now. If I’m going to be eating…” lifted the dumbbells, straightening his arms and holding them directly out in front of him, entire upper body shaking with the effort, “then I sure enough have to start putting out more effort than I have been doing, quit sitting around so much so I don’t end up all soft and fat and useless.”
Not a chance of anything like that, Susan knew, not for many months, but even less chance of convincing him of the fact, so she let him be, went back to her work. He’d soon be getting hungry, she knew, dreadfully hungry after going so long without and then allowing himself to start having food again, and hopefully that hunger would, before too long, drive him into the kitchen in search of sustenance which she would willingly provide.
Einar went back to his work, as well, struggling to do the exercise which he hoped would strengthen arms, legs, prepare him for his coming return to the vertical world of peak and basin which had been his home, and that of his little family. Knew he had to work to improve his speed, endurance, his strength, if he was to be the kind of protector and provider required of him by present circumstances. Winded and beginning to lose his view of the world to a bevy of black, billowing shapes that assailed his vision, he stopped, sitting, wrapping arms around his knees against the chill he knew would be starting to creep in before too long a time of stillness. Noticed that he could, when he tried, get one hand almost entirely around his leg, just above the knee. Had to work on that, too. Legs like that might carry him up over the ridge and down the other side, had done so, not too long ago, but sure couldn’t be counted on to carry him as swiftly or over as great a distance as he was used to expecting of himself. A good and fitting challenge, perhaps, for a man on his own, alone, to see just what sort of performance he could demand—and receive—from a body thus driven so far beyond its normal limits but he was not alone, and with a wife wanting to walk beside him and a little boy looking to him for far more than that, he knew he had no business continuing on in that direction. Had to turn, start making his way back. Was going to hurt. But—hint of a wry grin—when had he minded that?
* * *
None too amused at their largely un-sheltered night out in the mountainside gale, the Task Force agents greeted the return of day in a sullen mood, cold, stiff and sleep-deprived, more than ready to be off the mountain. But not—they were determined—until they’d returned to the site of the slide and scoured the place for the tracks of whoever it was they’d been following down from the place. The descending trail might be lost to them, but if they could find and backtrack the small party’s approach to the place, perhaps they could make some additional and very valuable progress in their investigation.