Will diverted from his elk-stealing and the pirated meat recovered, work progressed on the filling of the racks, smoker soon full and Bud and Roger stepping away to lash together a third drying rack, seeing that they had more meat slices than rack space, as things stood. Quite a supply it would be, by the time they got it all done. The smoker fire they would not light until after dark, Einar not wanting to risk such a smoke signature by daylight and the meat, he knew, quite capable of beginning to dry all on its own, even in the absence of the warmth and smoke of the fire. Wanting to prevent the raven from so easily robbing the racks, he began skewering the meat on spare willow wands whose ends he sharpened to ease the task, sticking these into the lashing which held together the racks.
Einar worked quietly beside Liz, each simply enjoying the presence of the other, no words needed. Spring, things coming alive, budding, waiting, wanting to burst forth in a riot of green, new life reaching for the sun, and Einar felt it, too. Wanted it. Wanted life. Was interrupted in his quiet musings by Bud, who had finished assembling his new rack and rejoined the group gathered around the current project.
“So. About comin’ down with us when we go. Given it any more thought?”
“You’d be just what we need though, Asmundson, with things picking up momentum down there and folks getting serious about resistance to the way things are going, politically. If you don’t think you’re cut out for leadership—a point on which you know the two of us disagree—you could always train. Teach. You know, like you did during your SERE days.”
“SERE?” Liz asked.
“Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. This wayward fella of yours never told you about that? About how he spent several years teaching after stepping away from his job with the travel agency, or wherever the heck he worked after coming back from Rhodesia?”
“No, he never told me. Travel agency? What…?”
“Huh. Figured he would have told you. Yeah, travel agency or something. Sure did travel a lot, anyhow. All over the world, real fast-paced life, five or six different passports... Right, Asmundson?
“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Kilgore.”
“Ha! That’s right. You know nothing. Nothing at all... You know, for a guy who’s spent years on the run downing federal helicopters, blowing stuff up doing all manner of other unconventional and downright illegal things to avoid capture over that time…well, you sure do take that ancient Nondisclosure Agreement of yours seriously, don’t you?”
Einar shrugged, turned away before the tracker could see the hint of a smile that crept across his face. Did seem a bit ironic, come to think about it… But he’d never minded a bit of irony in his life.
“Well,” Kilgore boomed, “guess you’ll just have to ask him about it, sometime, since he won’t talk about it with us ‘intruders’ about. But, back to SERE. That isn’t a secret. We can talk about that, can’t we, Asmunson?”
Einar shrugged again, set another completed skewer on the nearest drying rack and busied himself with filling a third. Didn’t particularly like Kilgore’s line of questioning, this delving into a past whose details he did not always like to recall. The tracker seemed to get the hint, for once, and let the matter drop, though Einar knew he hadn’t heard the last of any of it.
For the remainder of the afternoon the four of them worked away, all racks filled with elk strips before the sun set and a fire prepared and ready to light in the smoker as darkness approached. Will spent a fair amount of time on his mother’s back and on Susan’s, adding his own lively commentary to the conversation as everyone worked.
Evening, smoker started, supper eaten and everyone retreating to tent and shelter, with the exception of Einar, who was taking the first watch with the smoker, adding wood when necessary to keep the process going through the night, and Liz, who after feeding Will and getting the child tucked snugly into the sleeping bag, decided to join him.
“So, tell me about these survival and evasion classes you taught, that Bud mentioned. That sounds like an interesting job.”
“Yeah, it was an interesting job alright. Was kind of refreshing after the jungle, and Rhodesia, and then the assignment I took after coming back from Africa, the ‘travel agency’ job Bud kept trying to get me to talk about. It was awfully interesting, too, but at times felt like I was fighting another losing war, another one that the political powers-that-be had already decided we would be losing… SERE was different. I knew that each of those guys I helped to train would have a far better chance of coming through…well, a situation like the one I’d faced in the jungle, if they ever encountered such, after the training was complete. That was something real, something solid that nobody could take away from them, and I was glad to be a part of it.”
“So, it was mostly survival training? Skills like you’ve taught me, out here?”
Einar laughed softly, a sound like the wind in dead-dry oak leaves, nearly devoid of humor. “Oh yeah, there was a lot of that. Lot of other stuff, too. We had to prepare them for what they would face if the evasion part didn’t work out, and they ended up being captured, too. I was good at that part, because I’d been there. The interrogations. Too good, maybe, but nobody said so at the time. In fact, I ended up running that part of the courses more often than not, because they knew I would keep it true to life. We tried to keep everything very real, replicate situations as well as we could, prepare people…
“Your fellow instructors…did they know that part of what you’d been through in the jungle?”
“Oh, no. Not sure I could have done it if they’d known. At that time…well, think I was pretty good at keeping everything stashed away in separate little boxes in my mind, as far as the memories and my own experience. Keeping it real separate from the present, almost like it had been someone else back there in that cage. Was the only way I could keep it together, doing work like that. There were people who knew, of course, which is part of what got me the job, but they weren’t the ones I was working with every day.”
“It was weird sometimes, because a lot of the training is based off of the experiences of people who’d been captured and held in various conflicts, interrogated, and sometimes that would get talked about, but I never let them know, never talked about my own experiences, though I’m pretty sure some of the guys must have guessed. We did have to test the scenarios, we instructors, some of us standing in for the students to kind of get things refined and ready for them, and after a while I ended up being the one everything was tested out on, all these different…interrogation techniques, because everyone knew I could take it. Would take it. Interesting times.”
“Einar…” She was quiet for a minute, held him tight where they leaned together against an aspen beside the smoker tent. “What do you think about all of that, now? Do you think it was a good idea?”
“Sure it was. Sure. Was doing something worthwhile. Just like I am now…” And he was asleep.