A dusky dawn light as Einar rolled for the last time from his bed on the ground, stretched cramping limbs and hauled himself to his feet, sun still hours from rising, and the wind was picking up. Had been increasing throughout the night, bringing with it, mingled with the familiar and somewhat comforting scents of sage and alkali soil, the occasional whiff of asphalt and exhaust, town smells, and they had troubled his sleep.
It was warmer down there, leaves beginning to come out on most of the trees and not a trace of snow anywhere, but Einar was not warm as he scrubbed numbed hands across his face and stirred about camp that morning, energy entirely exhausted by the long trek to reach the airport, head heavy and confused and the morning chill seeming to pass right through him, sharp, keen, body beginning to tremble with cold whenever he stopped moving for more than seconds at a time. Liz could see it, wished they might find a sheltered place and stop for an hour, make a fire and some hot food before the final push to the plane, but it was not an option, not even a remote possibility, and she just had to hope everything would go smoothly, so they could be in Arizona and on their way up to Bud's house within a few hours. She could only imagine how good it would be to put that kind of distance between themselves and their pursuers, real, theoretical or otherwise, and to be able to relax for a while.
Einar, scouring camp for any trace they might be leaving behind and donning his pack, had no thought of relaxing, mission underway and everything coming into sharp focus as his thoughts turned to the details of their upcoming actions. In his mind he could picture the site, both as it appeared on the map and through binoculars from their vantage point the previous day, access road running along the low ridge just above the wide basin which held the runway, high chain link fence beyond that but in one spot, brush coming down to the access road and beyond it, enveloping the fence and continuing, though hacked off yearly to maintain some semblance of order, nearly onto the runway itself.
It was here that they planned to wait, He and Liz, as Roger, Bud and Susan went to the waiting plane and prepared for the journey, here that they would meet it and board—or, more accurately, be loaded, concealed in duffel bags that Kilgore would carry into the brush and stuffed into the two black plastic crates which Roger had brought for the purpose. Cargo. Could work. Would have to work. They were committed now. This being a small and somewhat rural airport—no tower, no flight plan and no clearance required for a small plane like Roger's, so long as he took the proper route out of the valley—there were no cameras covering the perimeter. Of this, Roger was certain, having conducted a thorough reconnaissance of the area on several previous occasions, their plan thus posing little risk. Theoretically.
On the move, hour still early and Roger wanting to keep it that way, especially with the wind continuing to become more blustery and now clouds moving in, they made their way down the slope and along a draw which concealed their movements while allowing them to approach within a quarter mile of their final destination. That final push involved climbing the backside of the ridge along which ran the access road above the airport, seeking out the most heavily concealed path down its opposite side, and hastily crossing the dirt track. They would then hurry along the fence in the timber to the spot where, just off of airport grounds, Roger had concealed the vehicle in which they would all ride out to the plane. No sooner had they got a closeup look at the access road than they realized there was a problem.
The truck, a small white pickup with some sort of logo on the door, was parked at the end of the dirt track, not ten yards from the spot where Roger had left his Jeep, window rolled down, engine not running and a head clearly visible on the driver's side. Not an unmanageable situation, perhaps, had Roger been alone, but with no way to know the purpose or intentions of the vehicle's occupant, Einar certainly did not want to risk taking his family down to meet Roger's vehicle. Had to come up with another option, and by the time Bud looked questioningly in his direction, he had already done so.
"Got to cut the fence, crawl through and wait for you guys in the oaks there on the other side. You bring the plane to us. You've got those duffels in the plane, right?"
"Right. But not the crates."
"So we skip the crates."
"Just load you folks in duffels? Gonna be a mighty rough ride."
"Got a better idea?"
"Let's go for it."
Safely on the far side of the road, having crossed on a curve so as not to be visible from the area where the truck was parked and having seen no other sign of human activity up there, other than their own, they began worming their way through the oak brush, Einar walking point and Bud just behind him.
There it was, the fence, Einar motioning for everyone to wait some distance back while he crept forward and inspected the thing, looking for sensors, trip wires, anything which might necessitate a re‐thinking of their plan. Finding nothing he gave Bud a nod, set to work severing the minimum number of links so as to allow their passage. The cut, narrow and well ‐concealed in the surrounding brush, might not be discovered for weeks or even months.
Striding confidently over to the little green and white plane as soon as he'd exited the brush, Roger began his walk around while Bud and Susan loaded their packs and Susan climbed in. Liz, meanwhile, was thoroughly occupied with keeping little Will from crying out in fascination at the sight of so many unfamiliar things, the planes, especially, catching his eye. She succeeded, the boy, like most creatures who grow up in the wild and under some degree of daily threat, possessing an innate sense of danger, and he sensed it now in his mother's hushed words. Watching carefully for any sign that the plane was being watched, Einar saw no sign of it, scrutinizing a truck which stood between their position and the plane, and determining it to be unoccupied, some sort of airport service truck.
Roger was finished, got in, Bud looking very deliberately in Einar's direction before joining him. It was time. Or would be, as soon as Roger got the plane a little closer. Einar was ready. But, it was not to be, plan interrupted by the appearance of a white pickup over between the hangars but heading their direction, no way to know the driver's intentions but Roger was powering up, ready to begin taxiing, and Einar caught his eye, gave the pilot an emphatic depart! signal, a hasty salute and a big grin, disappearing into the brush as the little plane began to move. Right past them. Gone. Good. Go. While you can.
Quickly scanning the ridge from which they had come, Einar was dismayed to see their escape cut off, the first white pickup having left its parking spot and begun inching its way slowly along the access road that ran the length of the ridge's summit, window down, driver appearing to search for something. Not good, not a place he wanted to go, unsure as they were of the driver's intentions and well aware that they would likely be seen now should they attempt to cross that opening, but they couldn't stay where they were, either, first truck still heading roughly in their direction, and he did the only thing he could see to do, taking Liz's hand and striding out of the brush, straight to the service truck which sat parked only yards from their hiding place. The vehicle was concealed from the ridge by the close proximity of the scrub oak thicket and they, themselves, concealed from the first pickup by the bulk of the second as they approached. Rising from his low crouch by a few inches and peering in the passenger's side window Einar saw the key in the ignition, eased open the door, motioned to Liz and prayed the thing would start. It did, no visible reaction from the other truck as he started it up and slammed the seat back to allow for legs apparently rather longer than those of the previous driver.
"Get Will on the floor between your feet and keep him there," he spoke to Liz, voice low, well controlled, but with a hard edge to it that she had heard only a few times in the past. "No matter what happens, you keep him there." He checked his pistol and handed it to her then, wishing the rifle were available but not having time to retrieve it from his pack and reassemble it.
Einar took off, creeping at first, still hoping to avoid provoking alarm on the part of whoever occupied those other trucks, a plan which seemed to be working, as the first had veered away and headed back towards the hangars at a leisurely pace, the second continuing its slow circuit of the access road.
A few dozen more yards and then there they were, pulling out onto the highway, after which, concealed from airport grounds by a low, juniper‐covered rise, Einar, behind the wheel for the first time in several years, took off with such enthusiasm that Liz had to put her hand on his knee and remind him that down here in the world, there are such things as speed limits...