Wilder and Miguel’s first stop after returning to Capiche was to find Sally Straeder.
She noted their peddler’s packs and her face tightened. “What happened?” Sally asked.
Both men started talking. Wilder stopped and let Miguel continue.
“I was spending the night at one of the customers Steve recommended.” Miguel said.
“A little after midnight, I heard many men coming into the house. I slipped out the bedroom window.” Miguel continued.
“I peeked around the house when I left. They had a bus with guards and there were men on the bus. Prisoners.” Miguel said. “On the way back we talked to some people we had traded with. They thought we knew Livingston County was collecting every able-bodied man for the military.”
Sally looked at Wilder. “Do you have anything to add?”
“We hoped Steve would be here. We left as soon as we figured out the risk but we took almost a week to survey defensive lines on the way back.” Wilder said.
“Did either of you see him killed or see his dead body?” Sally asked.
Both men vigorously shook their heads “No.”
“Did either of you see ‘Dog’?” Sally asked.
“No” both men said in unison.
“Neither have I” Sally said.
“Thank-you for taking the time to inform me.” Sally said, dismissing the men with a nod.
At two in the afternoon, Sally changed out of her house-dress and put on a sun-dress. She went into the garden and started slicing the last of the bumper crop of paste tomatoes into the food drier. They got a good price on the market. Every so often, she would stop and stretch the kinks out of her back.
That night, she put a lamp in the window that faced the drive.
Swinging by Quinn’s home, the two men found Dysen at the sawmill. The mill was cutting 3/4” boards for shelving. Pantries were suddenly on everybody’s mind with winter a mere three months away and gardens groaning beneath heavy crops.
The rude gears were clattery and the mill was not a good place to have a conversation.
“What’s up?” Dysen asked once they were outside.
Wilder fielded the question. “We have nothing solid to share except that we grossly underestimated how militarized Livingston County has become. Miguel was within seconds of being Shanghaied when he escaped. That was the night we lost track of Quinn, Staeder and Chernovsky.”
Dysen drew in her breath. “Maybe he slipped through?”
“Maybe.” Wilder said. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that Quinn had taken the most dangerous path. They had assumed, in their ignorance, that the physical challenges of traveling were the gravest hazard. Quinn was crippled and it had seemed prudent to have him skate around the southern and eastern rim of Howell before sling-shotting north. Miguel had been four miles further south and the paddy wagon still found him before the night was half over.
Dysen looked them over, scanning their faces. They imagined that she was weighing them, perhaps thinking they had been cowards to turn back while there was still a chance to complete the sweep around Howell and return by the northern route.
It is a hard thing to be judged by a woman you believe is the widow of the man who you served under. It is hard when that man saved your life. It is even harder when you are not sure in your own soul that you chose the right path. Maybe what you perceived as prudence in the moment was cowardice in wrapping paper with a pretty bow on top.
Dysen searched their faces. Apparently satisfied with what she found, she said “Let me know if you hear anything.”
She returned to the mill. She and the crew would cut boards until the mill-pond was drained. Dysen had no reason to leave early.
Nobody was at Chernovsky’s house. The door was locked.
“Now what?” Miguel asked.
“Who is next in the chain-of-command?” Wilder asked.
“I dunno. Either Gimp Sullivan or Tomanica.” Miguel said. “Probably easier to find Tomanica ‘cause Gimp could be anywhere.”
Tomanica was in his reloading shed. He was surprised to see them.
When they started to tell him about their travels, he stopped them. They went into his kitchen. He took a pad of paper from the top of the refrigerator and three sharp pencils.
“Take your time, boys” Larry said. “You are gonna get a lot of chances to tell your stories, but I need to make notes because you aren’t ever going to tell it twice the same and there is no telling what details might be important.”
Larry poked his head down the stairs leading to the basement. “Mavis! I need to have you get on the radio. There are some people who need to come over. Tell’em I have a surprise.”