29 November, 2015

29 November 2015

Though not much distance remained between their current location and the one chosen as the best place to pass the night, Bud was anxious to close the gap and get the little party established there, wanting to have time to thoroughly inspect the place for escape routes, give Einar time to become as comfortable with the arrangement as he might be capable, and allow everyone time to once again go over maps and discuss procedures for the following morning.

That last quarter mile of approach involved  a lot of climbing, up and over several low ridges in a landscape that appeared to have been picked up and folded with some precision by giant hands while it was still malleable, resulting crenellations standing out like ribs  on a bamboo fan.   A fine sort of terrain, providing as it did many opportunities for concealment, just the sort of place Einar might feel at home, but his legs were giving out as they approached, simply refusing to support him, leaving him to cling grimly to his two walking sticks, grit his teeth and hope no one would notice.  Despite this difficulty Einar was able through sheer determination to more or less maintain the pace Bud was setting, but if he thought he was concealing the struggle, he was convincing only himself.

Finally, nearing the top but with several hundred feet of elevation gain still to go, Bud halted the party beneath a sheltering overhang of yellow sandstone, spreading the map on a dry stretch of ground and holding it flat against a rising wind.  Einar doggedly remaining on his feet even as the others crouched around the map, knowing he would be hard pressed to rise again should he allow himself to sink to the earth.    Into the earth.  Stillness, and the sweet, damp smell of soil.  He wished.  Tired.  Trembling, beads of perspiration standing out on his face with the effort of maintaining his stance, he swiped a hand across his eyes, shook his head and squinted out at the world below, keeping watch.  All across  the jumbled sweep of land below them, the country through which they had just traveled, the sound of the wind singing between the ancient, twisted branches of several score of junipers was interrupted only by the occasional rasping call of a scrub jay.  He could not see the airport, ridgetop above them concealing its basin, but last he had seen of it, the place had appeared quiet, also, no sign of trouble.

Swaying, sick, he wanted to tell Liz to go, take Will,  get on that plane and make a break for it, start a new life in Arizona where no one would be looking for them, leave him there where he stood, where he would fall, soon to become a part of the landscape, scant meal for the vultures, bones  carried away by coyotes.  As it stood he was only slowing them down, increasing the danger of their already‐risky plan.  But, he could not bring himself to say it.  Could not abandon them, could not banish from his mind the images of what could happen down there, hidden teams rushing out to capture them as soon as they stepped onto that runway, succeeding, he watching from a distance, too far away to have any impact...  He would not do that.  Must at least go along to see them safely onto the plane, provide cover, if needed, as they took off, and then...but that wasn't right, either, for the flight would have a landing as well as a takeoff, and he must be present for that, too, see them safely all the way through.

Except, he told himself, arguing, debating the thing, except that Bud and Roger were two of the most capable and competent men he had ever known when it came to such missions, not to mention his own Lizzie, who had more than once proven her own strengths.  They would be fine without him.  Better.  So.   Make it happen.  Let this be the end of it, let them go.  Swaying again, and this time he let go his grip on the sticks would have fallen and in all probability found himself beyond the ability to rise by the time the others took notice.  Did not fall though, standing straighter after a moment's uncertainty, smelled the sage, spicy, damp, springtime down there in the valley, drawing himself together and starting up the last rise, heading for the ridge crest.

Less than an hour later they had reached the spot where all had agreed to spend the night, preliminary reconnaissance carried out and shelters beginning to take shape beneath the trees, nestled up against a series of low rock outcroppings which slashed their way incongruously across an otherwise‐unremarkable landscape of low pinyon and juniper.  While Liz and Susan set up camp and prepared a cold supper and Roger—well aware of his duties the following day—slept with hat pulled down over his eyes beneath a jutting shelf of sandstone, Bud and Einar made a final going‐through of their own packs, and everyone else's.

Carefully emptying Liz's pack and his own, Einar went over each item, careful to make certain that nothing put back into Liz's would, if somehow seen by others, provide any particular clue as to her way of life over the past years, keeping it to the essentials, and mostly those that had been brought in from outside by Bud and Susan.  His own gear he did not similarly sanitize, no point, if they get hold of me there won't be any shred of plausible deniability, no doubt who they're looking at, so instead he focused on weapons, FAL brought to him so many months ago by Kilgore disassembled and stashed in the pack so as not to be obvious from the outside, wouldn't do to be seen crossing the runway with such a thing, though he would have been far happier had he been able to have it at the ready...  Pistol and knife, though, he kept on his belt as always, concealed beneath his vest, bone spear and dart heads carefully wrapped and stowed in an outer pocket of his pack.
Dusk, then, air growing sharper with the setting of the sun, and Einar was as ready as he figured he was ever going to find himself.

08 November, 2015

8 November 2015

Responding to a silent summons from Kilgore the little group assembled beneath a stand of junipers, some distance further back from the edge of the vegetation and just out of sight of the airfield.

"Here's the plan, guys.  Roger's got a vehicle stored down there, not on airport grounds but nearby.  He and I are gonna work our way down around to where it is, show up and check things out.  Then while Roger gets the plane ready I'll take the truck back off of grounds, since there's a fence and no cover and you kids don't need to be climbing it...come here."

Bud beckoned and the others followed, Einar lowering himself to his belly on the little rise indicated by the tracker and taking the binoculars, studying the fenceline, two spots where the timber crept down nearly to the fence, itself.
"We're supposed to meet you, and the truck, down at the edge of the timber?"

"Better.  In the timber.  There's a little access road that parallels the fence.  You can't see it from here, and it can't be seen from airport grounds, either, and that's where you're gonna meet me.  The three of you will hurry into the back of the truck, where Susan'll help get you all packed into your transport containers as I drive out to meet Roger at the plane."

Einar looked skeptical.  "Transport containers?"

"Sure.  You don't think you're just gonna be walking around out in the open out there, do you?  No!  We've got it all figured out, got a couple cargo crates for you guys. "

Cargo crates.  Sensible plan, really, he had to admit, good concealment, but the thought of being locked in a crate and shoved aboard a plane with no way to see out and no chance to resist should trouble come...he let out a slow breath, nodded.
"Let's do it."

Roger grinned, Susan let out a silent sigh of relief and Kilgore clapped the fugitive on the back, nearly bowling him over.  Liz just watched silently, knowing Einar was agreeing too easily, wishing she might know what was going on in his head.

"Now," Roger took over, "should something go a little funny down there and we fail to make contact with you for one reason or another, we've got a backup plan of sorts, a rally point so we can all have a second chance at this thing."  Roger spread a map on the ground, indicating the airport and plotting a course cross country, over a series of low hills and around a low, open basin, indicating a location near its northern edge.

"Can set the plane down here, if need be.  About a three hour walk from the airport, if you really hoof it.  So we'll give you six hours, to be safe.  Should we miss meeting one another then, we'll make a second attempt the following morning just after dawn.  After that,  I've got to clear out of here and you're on your own.  So we better make this work.  Understood?"

Einar nodded.  "This afternoon, then?"

"I was thinking morning.  Morning will give us more options if we have to go to plan 'b.'  We'll head down first thing in the morning, after a good night's sleep."

A slight smile from Einar, sleep, sure...  "Lot of daylight left, here.  Seems better to just get it done, minimize our time here near town."

"Sure, we could do it that way.  Morning means more time to watch the place though, make sure it all looks right before we head down there."

Sounded good to Einar, the extra time, almost outweighed the added risk which came of passing another night near the glow of the town.  He glanced up at Bud, but the tracker shrugged noncommitally.  Could see potential benefits and pitfalls either way—spooky as the man had been of late, he knew the fugitive might well change his mind about the entire operation, given another long night to stew over the thing, but might just as well back out should he decide he had not been given enough time to reconnoiter the airstrip and surroundings—and wanted Asmundson to make the decision.

Einar rose, studied the low folds of land that flowed away all sage‐and‐juniper dotted below their position, squinted down at the yellow‐grass basin which held the airport, and nodded to Roger.

"Yeah, sounds good.  Morning.  But we can't spend the night here.  Too exposed."

"No, no way, not here," Kilgore agreed, hoisting his pack up from the log on which he had been resting it, settling the load on his back and grabbing Einar's arm to help him to his feet, seeing that the man, despite his a tremendous effort, could not get his legs to cooperate.  "Already got us a spot picked out, back along this ridge by about a mile, mile and a half, still within bino range of the  planes, but far enough back so we won't be worrying about any townsfolk stumbling on us while they're walking their dogs in the evening, or anything like that."

Will, having grown restless on Liz's back since their stopping, squirmed and wriggled at the mention of "dogs," having seen pictures of them in a little book Susan had brought him.  After the first time reading that book to him, Susan had been begged, cajoled and finally commanded to re‐read it time after time, the boy's little hand clasping her finger and tugging insistently, making sure she understood his intentions by repeating, "ook.  Ook!" until she fetched the book and sat down to read.

Now, having heard Bud mention dogs, he wanted to see the book again, but wanted even more to see the dogs the big man seemed to be taking about, making his desires known with a series of well‐executed woofs and growls just like the ones Susan had demonstrated while reading to him.  Liz did her best to hush him, explaining that this was neither the time nor place for dogs, or books, or the sounds of dogs or demands for books, that one must be very, very quiet when within sight of towns and cars and all that mess down in the valley.  Will understood few of her words, but grasped very well their intention, watching the valley with huge eyes and keeping still.

Onward, then, to the spot where they had determined to pass the night, hours of daylight left and some final preparations to be made for the following day's journey once they got there.