Voices, near and clear and they were speaking English. This stood in sharp contrast to the hushed, lilting whispers of the night, his past day’s musings on Andy and Hyon and the rest of it having brought the jungle to the fore of mind and memory, and in the night—cold and sleepless, but his weariness had served to distort things a bit more than he would have liked under the circumstances—the rocks kept taking on a strange appearance in the moonlight, bamboo over his head, pressing in around him, voices of his captors whispering between the stones and through the gustings of the wind, and he was trapped, had to fight hard to keep from clawing and shoving his way out from under there and take off running for the timber, and freedom…
Now he was awake, terror of the night fading and real danger only feet from the spot where he lay concealed. There were three of them, near as he could tell from a hasty count of legs and feet. From his position beneath the rock he could see no more, work boots, khaki pants and blue jeans not telling him a tremendous amount about the interlopers, but as he struggled to quiet his breathing and still the shivers that had seized him upon waking and were now doing their best to drown out all information coming in from outside, the conversation proved to be quite another matter. Two men and a woman, from their voices, and it seemed they must be looking at a map of some sort. Their words were at first unintelligible because of the wind, but then it calmed down and he could begin picking up snatches of conversation.
“…make another pass over to the West where we spotted…”
“Yes, we have to make sure we’ve covered all possibilities before we move on to the area beyond the lake, because once we move all our ground resources over there it will be hard to…”
Wind picked up again then, and when it again subsided sufficiently the woman was speaking, seeming to have a slightly differing plan which involved “splitting up and leaving four or five of us here, while you move the rest of the camp up to the lake. That way if they come down through here we won’t miss them, but the rest of you can be focusing on the lake, which we’ve all agreed is probably where we’ll end up picking up the signal.”
They moved on then, map rustling in the wind as one of the men struggled to fold it and Einar straining his ears after them, but unable to pick up any more shreds of conversation. Find them. That’s what he’d heard. These people were trying to find them, thought they must be up at some lake but wanted to leave a camp there near the canyon rim, in case they came through… All very easy for a wanted man to interpret as clearly pertaining to his immediate situation, and there were times when Einar would have done so, and acted without hesitation on the notion, but that day was fortunately not one of those times.
Question was, who or what were they looking for. The camp did not have the look or feel of earlier federal search efforts he had seen—and he had seen plenty. All parties seemed too causal, camp left apparently unguarded during the day and quiet at night, giving no sense that its occupants believed themselves the potential targets of an armed and deadly fugitive, as they well might, were they seeking him. What, then? And what sort of danger did the operation, even if unrelated to his presence and Liz’s, pose to their remaining hidden at the new shelter? Would these people, in seeking…whatever it was they sought on canyon rim and at a high lake, be likely to happen upon clues which told them some far more interesting and elusive quarry might be in the area? A whiff of smoke, some sign of human passage seen from above by one of the planes…that was the way things happened. The way they ended, and he knew he must know more about these people and their intentions, before taking his leave. Knew how he had to do it, too.
Having observed the camp through part of a day and an entire night and seen what appeared to be its complete lack of security, Einar found himself leaning strongly towards attempting a quick and very efficient incursion into the place, just far enough and long enough to determine with some certainty the nature and intent of their mission. It would be risky, but not, he was becoming convinced, more risky than returning home without more information.
While he would have much preferred to do it at night, Einar was leaning towards making his raid during the daytime hours when everyone would—hopefully—be out of camp. Should the place be protected by cameras, said devices would almost certainly have nighttime capabilities anyway, and should they be linked to any sort of device which would alert the camp’s occupants upon their being tripped, he might well be unable to make his exit in time. Not without shooting, at least, and if anything would give away his identity and begin an intensive new search, it had to be that! Besides which, he had eaten up almost all his food already, and without anything to help keep his temperature up as he waited under the cold rocks, he knew he would almost certainly find himself too cold and stiff by dark to be remotely quick or agile as he inspected the camp.
Better, then, to do his trespassing during the daytime, if it appeared everyone had again left the camp. Things were looking hopeful, whole place mobilizing with daylight as breakfast was cooked on several camp stoves brought in for the purpose, Einar’s stomach cramping painfully at the smell of bacon and pancakes. He could even smell the maple syrup, imitation, no doubt, a strange concoction of corn syrup, caramel color and synthetic maple flavor, hardly even qualifying as food, but just then he would have been more than happy to lie there under his limestone boulder and drink the entire bottle…
Eighteen, in all, were the camp occupants Einar managed to count after squirming around into a better position and slightly raising his head, none of them appearing too official, with the exception of two men who wore what appeared to be Forest Service uniforms. He found it odd that these two men, far from directing things, appeared merely to be along for the ride. The trio who had conversed near his hiding place first thing that morning—he recognized them by their boots and the bottom foot-and-a-half of pant leg—definitely seemed to be in charge, spreading out maps on a folding table and pointing out to all present some key landmarks which Einar greatly wished he was near enough to observe. A brief time of preparation then, Einar learning-valuable bit of information—that one of the men who had been over near the plane and who seemed one of the three directing the day was indeed the plane’s pilot, for he returned to make a few routine checks on the craft before joining the others and departing off into the tall grass of the high meadow.
Einar was alone then, or hoped he was, not daring to move for quite some time as he lay listening and watching for any sign that someone might have been left behind. After an hour or so—smell of breakfast fading, but Einar remaining hollow and hungry after his long, cold night—he was satisfied that so long as no one remained asleep in one of the tents, the place was indeed empty for the day. He wanted to waste no time, aware that some part of the group might return during the day, and taking his pack along should he have to make a hasty and unplanned departure from the area, he eased out from beneath the boulder, stretching and shivering in the sun while he waited for a bit of feeling to return to numbed extremities.
Wouldn’t do to go stumbling and staggering about as he inspected the camp, making a racket and possibly getting himself seen. Wouldn’t do to be seen at all, he lacking any means to reasonably disguise the fact that he was a scraggly-haired, long-bearded mountain dweller who wore animal skins and ate a decent meal perhaps once every two months—though he did try his best, tucking hair up under his hat and beard into the neck of his parka and keeping his head down as he hurried towards the little knot of tents and tarps, meaning to keep any cameras whose presence he might have overlooked from getting a good image of his face.