He paced. Usually along the edges, too close to make for a comfortable walk, it was never a stroll anyway, his steps alternated between shuffle, exaggerated measured strides and or tenuous plucks and taps: A drawn bow across floor and subfloor making the building play its tune.
By the roll of his foot he found the frets of warped pine joists. Traveling down a plank to the twelfth nail, now too rusty to hold the tune of solid, the creak and groan was located. Looking up a tear stain across the west side corner by the vent, where rain and prevailing winds snuck in. Many such rainstorms in seventy years would be his guess but it was enough to rust the the nail and pull the true out of the board.
In the old days he would tune it, drive in a new nail, and seal the vent. It was only inspections now, his talent underused. He raised his nose, testing the air, turning on heels as he detected infiltrations of cool, puddles of stagnant, and corners of damp. Every fluctuation in square and seal uncovered. From the inside he knew every place the batten had blown off and the outside let in; where tin eaves leaked and empty holes from an old mailbox now whistled.
He too whistled, tapped and drew a long note on the creak, listening to the building’s response; to catch it in a lie. Querying it while looking it in the eye, alert for any flicker or quiver in the response. Prodding it.
A pull on the leash. The captain comes back from the inspection and rushes him along. “Did you find anything?”
“No sir” he said, turning himself to follow. On his way out he lagged as he passed the owner, allowing a brief crack in his facade and a hint of nod. It is here he exposed vulnerability and passed a quick note.
Weeks pass with much the same routine. Routine was important to establish. He hid himself in the middle of a march, his goose step keeping time with the others. His salute impeccable. How carefully he practiced his smile to ensure spontaneity. Time in front of a mirror hiding a wall and fixing cracks. Time spent slowly covering up the seams of paperwork so it did not haunt.
It was on a night of guard duty, 3 am, when he slipped away as he had arranged, hoping his contact trusted him. He left his hat in the middle of the road and walked to the meeting spot. A hand reached out, pulled him to an alcove, handed him his hat and drew him close. A hug.
“My friend, we cannot help you hide. We can disguise you no better than you have done. Our closets will not put salve on your stripes, quiet the battle or protect you. We cannot unclip you from your leash nor allow you to run in their stead. Lose their scent when you can, nip but a cuff of a trouser leg so a few can escape and then, in your quietness, forgive yourself and clean off what blood you can when all rouse fails.”
In this man’s eyes I saw his hiding place just like I saw the one in the building. His trembling hand in his darkness is on his sword. Feet posed for pounce, run, or entrenched, depending on need. The whole building trying to contain him in his hole, holding him back.
On his sword are fabric strands from uniforms the same as mine and blood from my kin. I knew these stains and knicks were in self defense against dogs that pull hard on the leash, lusting for blood. These were actions to protect hiders.
He continued. “I give you now the names of two friends who can help. Treat them well. Hide them well.
“Anne thanks you for the rations and sends her love. It was she who saw you through the crack in the wall and hopes, when this evil has passed, you both can bloom together on some spring morning.”