Home > Shadows (Ashes Trilogy #2)(2)

Shadows (Ashes Trilogy #2)(2)
Author: Ilsa J. Bick

“You’re back early. How was Baxter’s?” the boy asked as Jed scuffed up.

Baxter’s was an old bait-and-tackle place just west of the border with the U.P.: a four-day journey round-trip and neutral territory where folks bartered and gossiped. “It was all right. Those hinges need more WD-40. I told you to keep up with that.”

“I’m sorry. Got the Spitfire done, though. All I had to do was yank the ignition wires. Pull the cord now and that boat should start right up. Haven’t tested it because of the noise, but you’ve got spark.”

“Oh. Well. Good job.” Jed was put off his stride. He unhooked his rifle—a Tac-Ops Bravo 51—and leaned it against the boathouse, then bent to unclip his snowshoes. The Bravo was a good enough Kate but couldn’t compare to the M40 he’d used as a sniper in ’Nam. Now, that girl really had lived up to her name: Kate = Kill All The Enemy. The dog lathered his face as he messed with the snowshoes’ buckles. “Down, Raleigh, you old mutt.”

“Jed, what are you angry about?”

“Tell you inside.” Gritting his teeth against the scream of those hinges, Jed followed the boy. The boathouse was large, big enough to accommodate his Harley, the vintage Spitfire, a couple kayaks, and his snowmobile, but still deeply cold despite the insulation. “Damn it, son, I told you not to worry about the propane. You got to stay warm. You want that leg to lock?”

“I’m fine,” the boy protested, but Jed was already fussing with the heater. He was angrier than he ought to be, and knew why.

“Jed.” A hand on his shoulder. “Just tell me.”

So he did, talking as he worked WD-40 back and forth, first on the hinges of the north door and then on the slider’s rails and rollers. When he was done, the can was half-empty and the boy was quiet. Jed said, “You’re not surprised.”

“No.” Stirring through a toolbox, the boy selected a flex-handled socket wrench. “They say what branch?”

“No one’s sure. Might be Army, might be a bunch of different branches. There haven’t been any real military around here since the Navy packed their seabags and skedaddled out of that radio place down by Clam Lake. My money’s on some of those private militias. They were pretty damned organized before the FUBAR.” Tossing the WD-40 onto a shelf, Jed rested one cheek on the saddle of his Road King and watched as the boy tightened the propeller nut, testing the give and wobble. The propeller was from an abandoned twin-prop, but the airplane engine was an antique and just powerful enough to turn his stripped-down, jury-rigged, ten-foot Spitfire into a halfway-decent wind sled. Designed to float over ice the way an airboat skimmed shallow water, the wind sled should work, in theory anyway. Nearly four months after the world died, Jed was still too spooked to crank up anything that loud.

“Before I left for Baxter’s, Abel hinted that if I was to see any kid wasn’t a Chucky, I ought to bag him because he knew a couple hunters and they’d take whoever I brought in.” He paused. “He said they’d even take a Chucky, so long as it was alive.”

“For what?”

“Dunno.” But he could guess. He’d seen enough in ’Nam, and his father had been a guest of the Japs after his plane went down over the Pacific. The Nazi docs weren’t the only ones who liked to experiment. Sometimes Jed wondered which Jap bug-eater on Chichi-jima had been the first to take a good hard look at all those tasty American airmen and think beef on the hoof.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Might just be Abel flapping his gums.” This was a lie. Their only neighbor in a seven-mile radius, Abel was on the wrong side of eighty and never ventured far if he could help it. Still, when the old man had shuffled to the cabin, Jed had first dismissed the visit as nothing more than Abel’s looking for another handout before Jed took off. Jed could even sympathize. Abel was fifteen years older, alone, and forced to rely on whatever he could scrounge, snag, or snare. In a winter that was shaping up to be pretty bad, that wouldn’t be much. Sparing food for his elderly neighbor was the right thing to do. But then Jed saw how those old dog’s eyes darted here and there. Cataloging subtle changes? A stray piece of clothing? A door open that was ordinarily closed? Maybe. Times being the way they were, Jed and Grace had been very careful not to advertise about the boy, but Jed now thought that Abel guessed something was up. Hell, Jed wouldn’t put it past that old fart to rat them out on nothing more than a hunch if it meant a good meal. Yet Jed had kept his suspicions about Abel to himself, and knew why: because the boy would leave, and he and Grace would be alone again. Simple as that.

“Whether they’re military, militia, or a mix, they’ll have plenty of volunteers if they’re doling out food and supplies.” Replacing the wrench, the boy wiped engine grease from his hands with a bandana from Jed’s Rolling Thunder days. “I think we both know what this means, Jed.”

The words stung. “We could hightail it to the island instead. No one’ll be there. From the island, it’s another thirty-five miles to the Canadian shore, and seventy before you get close to anything like a town. We’ll be invisible. The only people who ever came to that island were kayakers—and not even that often because of the cliffs. Just no good place to put in and not end up with your boat splintered into toothpicks. But we could make it. Now you got that sled working, all we do is get to Superior and put in.”

“Jed, it’s the middle of winter. Even if we managed to get the snowmobile and Spitfire to Lake Superior without being caught or seen, as soon as the engine of either one kicks in, we might as well take out an ad. Plus, there’s no way we can carry enough gas to refuel. If we conk out in the middle of the lake, that means we walk a very long way and drag along whatever supplies we can salvage, which won’t be much. Once we’re on the ice, we’ll have no cover. If we lose the Spitfire and then hit a patch of thin ice or water , we’re as good as dead.”

“Then why did we build the damn wind sled in the first place?”

“You know why. You told me yourself: if we need to move out of here fast, a snowmobile can’t cut across Odd Lake—not over that stretch of rotten ice. Only a wind sled would have a chance of making it. Stick to the plan, Jed. You don’t even know if you have to leave here. If you do, then you and Grace kayak to that island of yours come spring. Better yet, get yourself a sailboat once you make it to Superior. There’ve got to be plenty lying around, and it’s not like their owners are going to mind. That way, you won’t have to rely on anything with a motor. A sailboat would be safer, and the weight you save not taking gas you can make up for with food and other supplies you’re going to need.”

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