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.