Watcher in the Pine

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Book: Read Watcher in the Pine for Free Online
Authors: Rebecca Pawel
for you. . . .” He trailed off, worried by her expression.
     
    Elena sank onto one of the bare cots. It was lumpy, and smelled unpleasantly musty. “You did say Devastated Regions was working on another post?”
     
    “Yes.”
     
    “When will it be done?”
     
    Tejada was afraid to meet his wife’s eyes. “It’s scheduled for the spring of 1945,” he said.
     
    Elena began to laugh, a little hysterically. “And we get to design our dream home!” she gasped, when she could speak again. “Why not build a school onto it! It should be done around the time the baby starts kindergarten!”
     
    Tejada, who had feared that she would be angry, sat on the other cot and began to laugh also. “And I thought things couldn’t get worse last night!”
     
    “Come on. I’ll help you bring in some chairs.” Elena pulled herself together.
     
    “You most certainly will not.” Tejada gave her a quick hug. “You’re in no condition to be dragging furniture around. Why don’t you try to unpack a little?”
     
    “Into what?”
     
    The lieutenant sighed. “I think there are a few hangers in the closets. I’ll be right back.”
     
    Elena did not argue with her husband. But as the door closed behind him she sighed and looked around the cold bare room again. Oh, dear , she thought. I hope this wasn’t a mistake .
     

Chapter 4
     

    T wo days after the Tejadas’ arrival in Potes the temperature shot up nearly twenty degrees, causing a massive thaw that transformed everything from snow to mud. Then, after two days of sunny blue skies and perfect spring weather, the thermometer plunged below freezing again, coating the streets with slick and treacherous ice patches. Tejada felt that the unexpected slippery spots were an apt metaphor for his experience of his new command.
     
    The first unpleasant surprise was the sole vehicle at the disposal of the Guardia. When Guardias Ortíz and Carvallo returned from Unquera, Tejada was disconcerted to notice that the ancient truck had several suspiciously round dents in the doors and hood, and a small hole in the front headlight. “Those look like bullet holes,” he said.
     
    “Yes, sir,” Guardia Ortíz agreed. “Corporal Battista and Torres had a little problem with the maquis a few months ago.”
     
    Tejada frowned. “Define ‘little problem.’”
     
    “Well, Don Virgilio—that’s the mayor of Trillayo—called them over there to make a complaint about poachers, and they came back after dark.” Ortíz’s tone made it clear that any guardia fool enough to do such a thing deserved what happened to him.
     
    “They were ambushed?”
     
    “I wouldn’t say it was really a formal ambush.” Ortíz spoke judiciously. “More that some of the maquis happened to be in the neighborhood, so they took a few shots at the truck. The corporal had the sense to just step on the gas, and of course Torres returned fire as best he could in the dark. There’s a report on file somewhere, if you’d like to look at it.”
     
    “Does this happen often?” Tejada asked, starting to understand why his subordinates had been startled by his decision to trust his safety and his wife’s to a stranger on the road.
     
    “Oh, no, sir.” Guardia Ortíz spoke quickly. “If we have to take the truck mostly I drive. I grew up over in Cillorigo, you see, so people know me around here, and the maquis know there’d be a lot of ill feeling if they hit me.”
     
    Tejada let the subject drop, although he was less than pleased with Ortíz’s logic. His annoyance increased into outright discomfort when Carvallo and Ortíz returned several hours late from a routine patrol the next day, with the news that they had been fired at from the woods. “We took cover, of course, and did our best to shoot back,” Ortíz said. “But I don’t think they were really aiming to hit us. Just trying to scare us a little.” Tejada was irritated by Guardia Ortíz’s calm assumption that being fired at

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