Rather extensive “picnic” stowed in two oversized daypacks—along with some spare clothes and sleeping bags; one never knows how long a picnic may take, and ought to be prepared—Bud and Susan set out to put in their ski trail, Susan, as she had promised, riding on the pallet while Bud dragged it somewhat reluctantly behind the snowmobile. Once he saw that she was neither going to fall off nor become irritated with him she happened to end up covered in snow now and then—“that’s what the goggles are for!” she’d reminded him—Bud began enjoying the task and things went a bit more quickly. Figuring it would be unwise to head straight for the mine, or even to do that side of the loop first, the better part of two hours were taken up with laying a varied and well-packed trail through the timber East of the house.
Only when the first section was finished did they begin on the back of the property, starting the loop which would take them within yards of one of the old mine entrances. It was a place Einar knew, Susan was certain, from his previous study of her late husband Bill’s notes, and, though she did not know for sure, seemed likely to be the one through which he had led Liz on their previous escape. A logical place for a return visit, especially by people who would be needing to keep warm while avoiding detection from the air.
* * *
Having spent more than an hour lounging in the sunshine, Will sleeping, Liz dozing with him and Einar keeping himself awake only through the realization that they would otherwise be left entirely unguarded, the trio was rousted from its rest by the disappearance of the sun. Sinking behind the nearby wall of spruces and ceasing to grace the mine entrance with its warming powers, it left the place dank and chilly, Einar beginning to shiver and Liz waking with the suggestion that they move back into the warmer, more thoroughly protected interior of the mine.
Which they were in the process of doing, when Einar heard a sound which stopped him in his tracks. Dropping to the ground with pistol in hand he whispered for Liz to get behind him, and soon she, too, heard the unmistakable whine of an approaching snowmobile. They were too far in to see anything more than a hint of fuzzy light where the entrance lay, enough, Einar knew, to tell him, if he watched closely, when and if a human form might approach, enter, but the vehicle did not stop. Only when when the sound had faded to long silence did Einar dare move, finding Liz in the near darkness and speaking close to her ear.
“Looks like we may have to make another crawl through these passages, if this is what it appears to be.”
“You think they’re looking for us? It could just be Bud and Susan…”
“No way to know that, is there?”
“Well, they left, whoever it was, so there’s really no reason to…”
She fell silent at Einar’s hand tight on her shoulder, sound soon echoing again from the mouth of the mine, and this time, it did stop. For a full minute, maybe two, tense times, Liz at Einar’s insistence taking Will and waiting around a bend in the tunnel, where the bullets could not reach them…
But no bullets came, no form darkening the doorway, no intrusion into the mine, and soon the vehicle started up again, and was gone. Liz came crawling back to Einar’s side, found him slowly advancing with the pistol, creeping on knees and one hand.
“Where are you going?”
“Have to know. Risky business, taking Will through those passages and up out that vertical hole, and don’t want to do it if we don’t have to. So I’m going to check. Stay back. Way back where you can’t be seen, but can hear what’s going on. If there’s shooting, or if I don’t come back in fifteen minutes or so, things have gone wrong and you need to get Will out of here. Way back in the mine. Find the place we climbed out before, and don’t look back. Understand?”
A silent nod, didn’t like it, but the child had to be protected, and what option did she have? And then Einar was gone, fast crawl for the smear of light at the front of the mine.
Silent out there, but if they were waiting for him, of course it would be silent. Einar lay still, pressed flat as he could make himself—which, in his current condition, he had to admit with some satisfaction was pretty doggone flat—into the cold rock of the floor, waiting. Did not have to wait long, which was fortunate, as he was not far at all from being immobilized by the cold, though he did not entirely realize the fact. No one was out there. He was sure of it. Had they been, Munin the raven would not have been sitting calm and quiet on his chosen fir branch, tilting his head this way and that as he waited for the return of his human companions. Something in Einar relaxed just a bit, though he remained painfully alert as he crept forward, wanting a better look outside.
Might be cameras. Sensors. He knew that. But had to check, as the nature of the recent visit had a lot of bearing on their immediate course of action, and so much was at stake either way. He’d see the tracks. Know who it was, and what they’d been doing.
The tracks were Bud’s. Unmistakably. He’d been wearing snowshoes—smart fella, carrying snowshoes on the snowmobile; lots of folks don’t think about that, and end up stranded when the things get stuck or break down miles from home—but the gait was still unmistakably his, at least to a trained eye such as Einar’s. Which didn’t settle anything for sure, but did somewhat help, after what he’d witnessed at the house. Bud had not appeared to be in collusion with them at the time, and, one had to hope, still was not. But if not, what was he doing there at the mine? Putting them all in danger for one thing, and for another…Einar spotted the bag. Great. What a dilemma. Could hardly leave the thing where it was, knowing that it could contain the cameras and sensors he had—despite having some measure of trust in Kilgore’s intentions—still somewhat suspected, yet if he was to tamper with the thing, it might well be to meet head-on a rather nasty explosive surprise that could have been concealed for him inside.
Whatever he was to do, he knew it must be done without too much more delay, for the cold was finding its way in relentlessly through his thin clothing with the disappearance of the sun, and he was beginning to realize that his minutes of useful dexterity were to prove somewhat limited. Relying on Muninn to alert him of any human movement in the area he quickly dropped once again to hands and knees, creeping forward until he could get a better look at the bag, a small camouflaged backpack which he could see, upon closer inspection, had a bit of brightly colored cloth protruding from its top.
Strange, the things a person will remember, but Einar recognized the cloth as belonging to one of the napkins Susan kept on her kitchen table, cheerful things patterned all over with ripe fruit of seven different varieties, all spilling out of a centrally-located basket and dancing around the borders. He’d counted them more than once, sitting there at her table trying not to look at the food. Which still didn’t entirely clear things up about the present situation, but at least warranted a consultation with Liz before further action was taken, and he retreated, creeping back into the darkness of the mine and trying hard to convince himself that he was staying so low as a security measure, rather than because he could no longer do anything else…