Kilgore did not stop in Culver Falls that morning when he drove down, but kept right on traveling, arriving some six hours later at a diner just outside a large ranching community in the flatlands, where he stopped and made a call on one of only a few dozen payphones remaining in that half of the state. Afterwards, taking a circuitous route and pausing frequently to make certain he was not being followed—which he was not—he drove out to a small, unattended airstrip to wait.
When Bud and Susan went for their morning ski the following day—earlier than usual, daylight barely beginning to creep over the ridge and darkness still lingering beneath the timber—they had company.
* * *
The previous day had been a quiet one for the little family in the mine, Will playing on the mattress of fir boughs and blankets, Liz sorting and organizing the things Susan had sent for them, preparing tasty meals from the included food and doing her best to keep Einar eating at regular intervals.
Einar, for his part, spent a fair amount of time up near the mine entrance keeping watch, ears sharp for any unusual sound and Muninn always within his field of vision, every little tilt of the bird’s head or movement of a feather scrutinized for meaning, for the warning it might give, but all day the bird showed no alarm, and no one came. Continuously as he kept watch, Einar’s mind strayed to the envelope in his vest pocket, wanting to read again a section of the transcripts there, try to puzzle through some of the things he’d remembered just before last talking with Liz about it, but he did not, knowing that his full attention must remain focused on the matter at hand. On his family’s security, and on how he might lead them out of there. Watching, shivering in the soft whispers of breeze that found their way into the tunnel mouth, he prayed for snow, for storm, for a way out.
Getting sleepy. Stood, stretched, squatted with back braced against the rocky wall. No way to doze like that, for he knew the moment he started, he’d fall over. Happened twice. Had to change position, after which he took off his sweater and set it aside. Couldn’t afford to be comfortable, not even marginally. Had to keep alert. The cold helped with that, helped with the rest of it, too, so he took off his shirt as well, crouching there against the rock in his buckskin vest until, arms turning purple and his entire body trembling so that the rough stone of the tunnel wall began leaving ragged spots along his backbone, he knew he’d let it go far enough. Had to be ready, should someone come.
Someone did come, but it was not the enemy. Was his family. As they approached, he heard Will babbling and talking to Liz in his strengthening voice which was sounding every day more like speech, Liz answering quietly, and then there they were, Liz sitting down beside him and handing him his son. Einar was glad he’d allowed himself a bit of time to warm
“Brought you some supper.”
Einar rose, stretched, tucked cold hands beneath his arms for a moment before accepting the thick slices of cheddar cheese, bread and summer sausage Liz had prepared for him. “Thanks. Things’re…pretty quiet out there. No sign of trouble.”
“No sign of Bud or Susan, either?”
“No. No, they’d better not be coming around too often! Big enough risk they took coming once.”
She watched him as he spoke, thinking that, despite showing some signs of difficulty after having begun to eat again, a bit of swelling at the ankles, perhaps, he seemed overall to be a good bit stronger. Even thought she saw a bit of color in his cheeks. It had been difficult to tell by candlelight, but now she was sure, and she found the change encouraging, even if it was obvious that he’d been sitting there freezing himself, again.
“You’re right. Best not to establish a pattern, I guess.”
“Bud knows that. Hopefully they’ll stay away now. Either way, we won’t be here. Have to get moving, Liz. I want to take us up through the mine, like we did the other time, into the timber and away. Before they find us here.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to wait for the next storm, so it can cover our tracks?”
“Sure would, but I don’t know about staying here that long. Just don’t know. Haven’t seen any sign of approaching weather, and every hour we spend here…”
“Can we give it until morning at least, look at the sky and make our decision then?”
Einar stared at the ground, pondering, nodding slowly. “Guess we can do that. Ok. Let’s not stick around here, though. Too risky to be spending a lot of time near the world, like this. Too much chance they could see our heat signature, and I don’t want you and Will having to make yourself as cold as I am, just to avoid being seen…”
“I’d rather you not be as cold as you are, either! Yes, let’s go.”
They went, Einar first tossing a bit of his bread to Muninn and nodding when the raven rasped his thanks.
“Keep your eye on things, you old vulture.”
With the coming of morning Einar had left the warm nest of blankets and sleeping bag where Liz and Will slept comfortably, hurrying topside to check on the state of the weather. Clear and soon to be sunny, he could see even from a distance.
Einar did not even have to stick his head out of the mine to know something was amiss outside. Muninn was not in his tree, was nowhere to be seen, and made no response to Einar’s hushed rasping. Something was different with the tree where the pack had previously been left, too, and as Einar squinted, tilted his head and struggled to get his eyes to focus, he soon realized that he wasn’t simply looking at the tree, but at a well-camouflaged man sitting against its trunk, almost entirely concealed by boughs and holding the raven with wings pinned against his body to prevent a struggle. Seeing movement inside the man, who had by then been identified by Einar as Bud Kilgore, released the raven, rose and took a step towards the mine, hands empty and slightly raised.
“This place open for visitors?”
Warily glancing around, already aware of the presence of one other person because of the raven’s behavior—circling, scolding, but not focused wholly on Bud’s location—Einar motioned to the tracker, who hurried to the mine entrance and ducked inside, beckoning for Susan to follow.
Einar stopped them just inside the tunnel. “You two alone?”
“What does it look like?”
Einar glanced at the raven, who now sat serenely in his tree. Looked alright, but still he insisted on searching the pair before allowing them any further underground. Pair cleared as well as he could reasonably do it under present circumstances, Einar hurried them along the passage, wanting to trust but anxious to get some rock between them and the outside world, should they be wearing any sort of transmitter or other device.
“Things at the house? I saw the feds there, watched them leave…”
“You came back, did you? Well, it went alright. Couple of them came in, didn’t conduct a proper search and so didn’t see anything to get their suspicion up, but I know that’s why they were there. Shirley put them up to it, no doubt. You folks definitely need to stay away from the house.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that! Hey. You got some things to answer for, Kilgore.”
“Oh yeah? Well I’m sure I do. So do we all. Time’ll come, Asmundson. No sense rushing it.”
“I’m not speaking generally. Think you know what I’m talking about. Want to know how come I woke up tied to that doggone board…”
Liz had arrived by that time, a sleepy Will in tow, had begun greeting Susan but fell silent at the obvious tension between Bud and Einar.
“Sure,” Bud leaned back against the wall, crossed his arms. “ Look. It was the only way I could think of to get you reliably up on your feet again and out of my house before the feds ended up finding you there. Was running short on options. Consider it an act of self-defense, on my part.”
“You should have just shot me.”
“I can do it now, if you’d like.”
“Let it go, Asmundson. Didn’t even happen. Feds rushed in and saved you before I could get a drop of that stuff down your stubborn, stiff-necked gullet. You can thank them, and may be getting the chance to do it real soon here up close and personal, if we don’t find a way to get you guys out of these mines.”
Einar was on his feet again, pistol in hand as he faced the entrance. Kilgore chuckled.
“No, no, keep your hair on, man. They don’t know you’re here. Not yet. But you know this place is too close to the house, and with the scrutiny I’m gonna be under, some distance would be a real good thing. Now, about that distance. Can I bring a friend of mine in here, real good friend, without you putting holes in him?”
“Of course.” Kilgore let out a loud whistle between his teeth, and Einar whirled around at the sound of rock scraping on rock—from a position behind the little alcove; someone was already in the mine.