Einar and Liz had enjoyed a much warmer night with the benefit of the clothes, sleeping bag and food provided by Bud and Susan, even little Will seeming more content than he had so far been since their arrival at the mine. Several time in the night Einar had found himself compelled to leave the warm little nest, creep out and check to make certain that all was well in the tunnels and outside, the vigil leaving him each time so thoroughly chilled that he dared not slip back into the sleeping bag lest he wake Liz with his shivering, but each time she was listening for his return, and pulled him back in to get warm.
When morning arrived without any sign of trouble Einar was almost ready to let himself believe that the delivery of supplies had been without ulterior motive, but even should that prove the case, he knew the very act of their delivery greatly increased the risk of eventual discovery. They couldn’t stay in the mine. Crouching with his back against the rock wall as he watched Liz prepare breakfast—Will helping in his own way, which consisted mostly of snagging tastes whenever his little hands could dart in unnoticed—Einar weighed the options, knew what he wanted to do but figured it bore some discussion with Liz before the final decision was made.
“We need to get out of here. Figure our best option is to go all the way through like we did before, and out the top. Lots of timber up there, enough to hide our tracks if we’re real careful. What do you think?”
“I think we should eat before we talk about it.”
“Ate last night!”
“Most people do it every day, you know…sometimes even more than once!”
“Here. There’s part of a sandwich left from last night, which I’ve split between us, a banana and some Nutella. How about that?”
How about it, indeed! Einar’s eyes were huge and white in the semi-darkness as he inspected the feast Liz spread before him, banana sliced up and spread with Nutella and sandwich smelling every bit as good as it had the night before, mind tossing around a dozen reasons why he ought to refuse the food, why he must, but he managed to dismiss each of them hastily and without too much thought, and eat.That morning, which dawned sunny, purple-skied and nearly perfect for some high-altitude recreation, Bud and Susan clipped into their skis and took off along the newly-groomed trail, enjoying a bit of somewhat more relaxed time together after the hectic happenings of recent weeks.
* * *
When their course took them by the mine and they saw the pack missing they were glad of it, but in accordance with a discussion before leaving home, they did not stop. Susan had wanted to leave them a batch of the freshly baked cinnamon rolls she and Bud had enjoyed for breakfast, a few additional warm things for Will and some avocados for Einar, but she’d known Bud was right when he insisted that they must not linger too often outside that mine entrance. Every time they went there, he said, they would be taking a risk, and eventually, that risk would cease to pay off, someone would see something, notice a pattern, and the situation would go terribly wrong…
Stopping on a sunny ridge crest far from both the mine and the house, the couple clicked out of their skis and sat down on a fallen aspen to discuss the dilemma. “Can’t stay there forever, those three,” Kilgore growled, poking at the snow with a ski pole.
“I know. I wish we could bring them back to the house where they could be safe and warm for a little while more, but after that last visit by your employers, I know it’s too risky. And Einar would probably never trust the place again, even if he still hopefully has some trust for us…”
“Nope. Never get him through that door again, even if it was safe to try, which it isn’t right now.”
“Probably for the best. He really was not doing very well there, even though we tried. Just couldn’t settle in, and I doubt he was ever going to.”
“Critter like that tends to be a lot more at home in a damp, cold old tunnel than in a house. Just isn’t any civilizing some of ‘em. Which isn’t a terribly bad thing in his case, anyway, though maybe a little rough for his missus, at times. Getting too soft and civilized can kill a man, you know.”
“Can it, now?” She laughed. “Well, no more pancakes and chokecherry jam for you then, mister. Wouldn’t want to risk killing you. And you’d better start sleeping outside, too. In the snow. Just to be safe.”
“Hey now, I’m no federal fugitive! Not yet, anyway… Little civilization’s not gonna do me any harm. I meant folks in his situation, that’s all. Folks who can’t afford to let their guard down at all, not the least little bit, or it’s all over for them. Best for them not to get too comfortable or settled, that’s all, or they risk complacency.”
“I guess we’d better not let our guard down too far, either, with the sort of guests we’ve been having…”
“That’s for sure. Now. About these guests of ours. How’re we going to get rid of them? Can’t keep bringing them food all the time, and you know Asmundson’d sooner sit there and starve than he would venture out and risk leaving tracks in this snow to catch some game, unless a storm’s real clearly on the way.”
Susan shook her head, looking pensive. “I wish there was some way to get them down to your house in Arizona for the rest of the winter. Or out of the country. Out of here, where they could start over.”
“Arizona’s out. Close as them feds are watching me after this business with Shirley and the avalanche, all the evidence they may or may not have brought back from up there, including my footprints in some real compromising places, if they’re smart enough to realize it…no way. They’ve probably already been there, and will be if they haven’t yet. It’d be a trap. But you know, you did give me an idea… Let’s get back to the house. I got business in town!”