Line of Descent chapter 13

Chapter 13

Drayton was called in towards the end of the meeting. It had been called at the instigation of Sir Gerald Walters and was attended on his behalf by his private secretary Grantley. Campbell, Grantley and Cheetham from the US embassy had discussed Krupmeyer’s information behind closed doors for nearly an hour before calling him in. Drayton did not like the appearance of political appointees like Grantley on the scene. It smacked of more interference, albeit indirectly, from the Home Secretary. Hadn’t he learned the lesson yet?

‘Hello Phillip’ said Campbell as Drayton took a seat. He poured a coffee for him. Drayton wondered what they had decided to do. Krupmeyer had given them all the information but had still not given them Canfield’s location, insisting that Drayton get agreement to the deal from the top before he would finally give the address.

‘Well, we’ve kicked it around and decided to let your man Krupmeyer have a go’ said Campbell. Drayton was surprised. He had not been sure they would go for it.

‘What about the risk to Krupmeyer?’ Drayton asked switching his eyes from Campbell to Cheetham. He had been disturbed by Campbell’s reference to Krupmeyer as his man. If Krupmeyer got killed, Drayton was not going to carry the can for it. Let them authorise it.

Cheetham looked to Campbell before answering, as if seeking his permission in answering Drayton’s question. He’d handle this one. Campbell gave him the floor with a gracious smile.

‘Krupmeyer knows the risks, he volunteered his help after all. If something were to happen to him it would be unfortunate. However we still feel that if this man is Canfield, then Krupmeyer’s offer should be taken up. It might prevent unnecessary bloodshed.’

Drayton noted the if in his answer. Nobody’s owning up to anything here, he thought. Nobody ordered MacColgan’s death and nobody really thought Harkin was Canfield. Officially, that is, but we all knew better, including them. Add twenty years ‑ twenty hard years ‑ to the photographs of the young soldier that Cheetham had brought, and they looked a lot like the man caught by the security camera in Vinton’s club.

Drayton wondered what they would do with Canfield if Krupmeyer managed to talk him out. Was there another deal in the offing? Was that what they had really been discussing while he waited outside. Go away quietly, back to America with nice Mr. Cheetham here. You’ve had your revenge, a good run, now leave it alone or we’ll be forced to kill you and nobody will know or care.

They wheeled Krupmeyer into the meeting. After a change of clothes and a clean up, he was looking a lot better than he had that morning. Except for the eyes, they were still red and sore looking.

Cheetham had obviously been delegated to deal with him. He introduced himself and the others. Drayton noticed he did not explain exactly who Grantley was, just said he was a representative of the British government. Krupmeyer was quiet and watchful, letting Cheetham do all the talking.

‘I’m speaking as the representative of the US government here. While not conceding that all of what you’ve told these people is strictly accurate, you have our blessing in trying to prevent any bloodshed. However, I must stress, you do so completely at your own risk. My job is to confirm that you’re taking this risk voluntarily and that you are not acting under duress or any other undue enticement. Is that the case?’

Krupmeyer nodded and answered it was, with a cynical smile at Cheetham. His attitude suggested a patient but hostile fortitude, let’s just play this charade out and get on to Canfield.

Drayton sympathised. Campbell seemed subdued as well, perhaps on his guard because of Walters’ representative at the meeting.

Cheetham, satisfied that he had done his bit with Krupmeyer, handed the meeting back to Campbell who spoke to Krupmeyer.

‘Mr. Krupmeyer, the position is this. You will be allowed fifteen minutes alone in the house with this man, whoever he is. Before the end of that time, you must either persuade him to come out and surrender himself to us or you must leave the house yourself. After that time, our security forces will enter the premises. Your safety in that eventuality cannot be guaranteed, do you understand?’

Krupmeyer said nothing, just nodded.

‘Good’ said Campbell. ‘In that case you can give Mr. Drayton Canfield’s location.’

Krupmeyer looked them over carefully before replying. He did not trust them at all, especially Cheetham. He wasn’t  smooth enough to be State Department. Definitely some sort of spook. This was the last card he could play. Would they keep their word? There wasn’t anything else to do. He gave them the address and hoped.

‘Thank you. In that case nothing remains to be done. Mr. Drayton will bring you there when the time comes. I wish you luck’ said Campbell. ‘We appreciate your co-operation and help.’ He reached over the table and shook Krupmeyer’s hand. With that, the meeting broke up.

Drayton went to see Wainright to give him the address. He was studying a copy of Canfield’s military record, that had been brought over by Cheetham. He looked up at Drayton’s approach.

‘Impressive chappy, this Canfield’ he said tapping the file in front of him with a forefinger. ‘If that’s who we’re after’ he added after a pause, looking at Drayton enquiringly.

‘Take it from me, that’s who it is, though I didn’t say that officially, you understand’ said Drayton with a grimace. ‘Nobody’s going to say that officially. Here’s the address, let’s get on with it.’

It turned out to be a second floor flat in one of those buildings hastily erected at the end of the war to house the bombed out inhabitants of the east end of London. There were three blocks to it, joined together to make a ‘U’ shape, leaving a central quadrangle. On each floor, balconies ran around the inside of the U giving access to the front doors. They had taken over a flat on one arm of the U that looked across the quadrangle directly into Canfield’s.

The building was in a dreadful state. Time and the inhabitants had not been kind to it. There wasn’t a wall not covered in graffiti nor a piece of crumbling concrete that wasn’t littered with rubbish. The area was what is usually described as deprived, thought Drayton, looking around it. War zone suited it better, he thought, briefly imagining having to live there with a shudder.

The surveillance team were having real problems in getting a good signal from the eavesdropping devices they had arrayed around the flat. The best results had been from one of their gadgets which translated minute vibrations of window panes into sound. One was trained on the back windows of the flat. They thought they had picked up sounds of movement in the late afternoon but couldn’t say for sure.

The echoes made by the children playing in the quadrangle all afternoon had made it even more difficult. They had also taken the flat above, but the floor was filled with a soft spongy insulation which damped all sound. Drayton had refused them permission to drill a hole through it for a pin head microphone. It was too big a risk. Having found him, he did not want to run any risk of alerting him before Wainright’s team was in position.

Wainright was having problems of his own, working up an assault plan which satisfied him.

‘It’s the windows facing into the quadrangle’ he had explained to Drayton. ‘They’re higher off the ground than normal, difficult to get up to and through in a hurry. Plus they’ve had some sort of secondary glazing attached and of course there would be heavy curtains behind that.’

In the end, he’d given up on them. ‘The door’s made of cardboard’ he said with a dismissive grin, ‘I can get a squad through it quick enough. Two men on ropes can enter through the two back windows.’

Drayton left him to it and went over to talk to Krupmeyer. He sat ignored in a corner drinking coffee from a paper cup, watching the preparations. He looked lonely and slightly pale. Drayton wondered if he was having second thoughts.

‘It’s not too late, you know. You can pull out and leave it to them’ he said turning his head in Wainright’s direction. Krupmeyer grinned, seeming glad of the company.

‘Leave it to them and he’ll be dead’ he replied turning to look at Campbell and Cheetham with emphasis. Drayton followed his glance. Campbell and Cheetham were talking quietly together. Maybe, thought Drayton, just maybe.

‘They’re giving you the chance’ he reminded Krupmeyer. ‘They’re not that bad.’

‘Who’s kidding who here?’ he replied raising his eyebrows and giving Drayton a hard stare. ‘Vinton’s hit scared the pants off them. They’re only saving their own necks. Without me, they might never have found him before he got to Walters. They had to deal.’

‘Maybe, but they didn’t have to keep their word’ Drayton reminded him.

Krupmeyer lapsed into moody silence. He did not even want to give them that, thought Drayton.

The assault was scheduled to begin at one o’clock that night. Drayton walked with Krupmeyer around the building to the foot of the concrete stairs on the other side that led up to the flats on the second floor. It was cold and windy. Scraps of litter were blown back and forth across the patchy grass in the quadrangle. Grey dishwater coloured clouds obscured the moon. They stood awkwardly in silence at the foot of the stairs. Drayton did not like Krupmeyer going in there alone. Somehow he felt guilty at him taking the risk. It should have been one of them.

‘Don’t do anything too heroic. Remember, sometimes people don’t want to be helped’ he said giving him a clap on the arm. Krupmeyer smiled without humour but made no reply. Drayton wished him luck and walked back to the commandeered flat.

Krupmeyer stood at the foot of the stairs for a while. He felt lonely at Drayton’s departure. Taking a deep breath, he started up the stairwell. The lights in it had long ago been vandalised. His feet crunched on discarded litter and empty cans as he walked up it in darkness. From the smell, it was pressed into use as a urinal as well as a rubbish dump. He reached the second floor landing and walked out on the balcony connecting the flats. He could see a line of hunched figures pressed against the wall outside the flat. There wasn’t a sound in the world as he walked towards it, just his footsteps echoing across the central quadrangle. He stopped at the door and looked back over his shoulder in the direction of the window he knew Campbell and Cheetham would be watching from.

He knocked on the door. The pale blue paint on it was faded and chipped. A patina of scratches surrounded the brass keyhole. He waited but there wasn’t a sound from within. He knocked harder. After a moment he thought he heard a sound, but wasn’t sure. His nerves were stretched, he began to doubt he had heard anything or not. He put his mouth nearer the door and spoke.

‘Canfield, I’m a friend. Let me in.’ There was no response. He knocked on the door harder and repeated the words. Suddenly there was the sharp crack of a bolt being drawn from the inside. He nearly jumped aside. It had been as loud as a pistol shot in the stillness. He looked down at Wainright who was looking up at him from his position crouched down beneath the window.

He pushed against the door. It opened slowly. Inside, it was nearly pitch black. As his eyes got used to the darkness he could just make out the figure flattened against the wall in the hall. A gun was in the hand and pointed at him. He slowly moved his arms up, palms outward, until they reached his shoulders.

‘I’m not carrying’ he said. The gun waved slowly, inviting him to enter. He walked carefully into the hallway, never taking his eyes off the figure. As he advanced into the hall, the figure slid silently back along the wall into the interior, maintaining the same distance from him. He cleared the doorway.

‘Close it’ the command came. It was barely audible but the voice was clear and exact, as if the person had not spoken in some time. He pushed the door closed behind him awkwardly with one foot. It clicked shut. Krupmeyer noticed wires running from it into the interior. They ran up the back of the door and into charges crudely taped to it. He could see the ugly detonators sticking out of the plastic. That bastard in Coole had been a bit more generous than he’d admitted, he thought.

The gun waved him on, away from the door and down the hallway into the interior of the flat. He arrived at what looked like the living room. It was dark except for a heavily shaded lamp that stood in the middle of the floor in front of a padded armchair. It stood no more than a foot high off the floor. The gun waved Krupmeyer to the armchair. He sat down slowly, careful to keep his hands high. All he could see of Canfield was his lower legs. The rest was a vague half imagined outline. He seemed to be sitting inside something that Krupmeyer could not quite make out. A frame or something.

‘Can I put my hands down?’ he asked.

The hand holding the gun emerged into the cone of light given out by the lamp. The barrel of it tipped carefully a couple of times.

Krupmeyer lowered his hands slowly onto the armrests. He leaned back in the seat and took a deep slow breath to settle himself. The charges on the back of the door had spooked him.

‘Outside is a bunch of guys. They’re armed to the teeth’ he began and waited for a reaction. There was none. The silence stretched.

‘Unless you come out with me, they’re coming in here to get you. I think they’ve got orders not to take you alive’ he added, voicing a suspicion that had grown as he watched Campbell and Cheetham talking to Wainright.

There was no reaction for a while, then the voice came out of the darkness. There was a dreamy displaced quality to it, as if the speaker was being drawn back into the world from some far away place. Brought back to speak the words and to leave again. It was as if he was waiting for someone else and Krupmeyer was an unwanted distraction interrupting his vigil.

‘What’s your interest?’ There was no passion or interest in the question, just a passing curiosity.

‘I know about Chaika, and Bergerev and all the rest of the camps. I want you to tell what you know. To testify.’

Again there was a long pause. Canfield’s hands seemed to be toying with a box like device in his lap. Wires ran from it in several directions to disappear into the darkness around him.

‘Why?’ The word floated across the room to Krupmeyer.

‘So we can bring the rest of the POWs home.’ As his eyes accustomed themselves to the gloom, he squinted to see Canfield better. He seemed to be dressed in a black overall like Wainright’s men.

‘There are no prisoners.’ The statement was flat and final. Krupmeyer leaned forward to see Canfield better.

‘You can’t have been the only one’ he said. If this was true then he had wasted the last four years.

‘They’re all dead. A loose end they cleaned up before declaring peace. I got out while they were doing it.’

All dead, all dead, dead, dead, the words rang through Krupmeyer’s mind. I’m late, he thought, we’re all too late. Nine years too fucking late. The anger burned and ranged in him. That made it more important to get Canfield out of here alive. Those bastards would pay. The killers and that bunch of shits who’d wanted peace at any price. He stood, all caution forgotten and started to walk towards Canfield.

The gun flicked up, like a cobra, stopping him short. He stood there, hands up, swaying with anger and frustration.

‘They’ll kill you unless he walk out with me. If they do, then they’ve won. Don’t you see? They’ll get away with it.’ He looked at his watch. He still had nearly ten minutes.

Canfield leaned forward, into the light and for the first time Krupmeyer saw his face. The features were pale and lined. He looked grey and tired except for the eyes. Though in repose, they were alive with a black confident vitality that chilled Krupmeyer to the bone. He realised with a sinking feeling that Canfield was at the very edge. Maybe he had already tipped over.

‘They’ll get away with it’ said Canfield without emotion. ‘In the end, they always do. But this time, there’s going to be a reckoning.’ Krupmeyer looked into those eyes and knew. There was no stopping him. His decision was made and anyone who got in the way was going to die. It was as simple as that.

At that moment, there was sharp metallic bang from the letter box in the front door. The flap blew off and spun down the hall like a bronze‑effect bat. A cloud of gas exploded in through the hole, rapidly filling the hallway and expanding in their direction. It was immediately followed by a terrific explosion from the front door.

In the flash of it, Krupmeyer saw Canfield sitting in a frame made from scaffolding, frantically stabbing buttons on the box that he held between his knees. Krupmeyer was blown sideways by the blast from the front door. He was thrown across the room and crashed head first to a stop against the wall. The flat was starting to fill with gas. Suddenly it was everywhere, choking and blinding him.

They were too early, he thought despairingly, he still had ten more minutes. A double cross. He struggled to his feet, feeling blood running freely down his face from an injury somewhere on top of his head. The side of his face hurt terribly.

There were two massive explosions, one from the front of the flat and one from the rear. Krupmeyer was bounced off the floor like a rag doll and into the side of the armchair. Canfield pressed another button and the floor seemed to erupt. The last thing Krupmeyer remembered was frantically scrabbling for a handhold as the floor tilted sickeningly to one side before dropping down intact on top of the flat below with a tremendous crash.

Drayton, wearing a tactical communications rig, had been following the progress of the operation from the flat across the way, when he heard Wainright start the countdown. He touched the large button on the harness to tell Wainright he was too early. Campbell reached across and tore the rig from his head, pushing him back from the window with his other hand, which stayed pressing on his chest. He held the rig behind his back out of Drayton’s reach, as if to stop him snatching it back. Drayton looked at him thunderstruck, before he realised what was happening.

‘You’re going to kill him, aren’t you?’ he shouted realising what was happening.

‘That’s the way of it’ said Campbell, guilt and decision fighting for control of his features. Decision won out. Cheetham sidled up to his elbow as if to present a common front to the furious Drayton.

‘You pair of bastards’ said Drayton glaring at them. There was nothing he could do about it.

They turned back to the window at the sound of the front door of the flat across the way being blown in. The hollow boom echoed across the quadrangle, rattling the window. They saw the hunched figures of the assault team straighten up from their crouched positions outside the flat and rush through the doorway.

The last man had barely filed into the flat, when a massive explosion blew out the front wall of it. The concussion cracked the window in front of them. Drayton saw the body of a trooper being blown back out through the doorway, hitting the balcony at waist height and pin wheeling over it to land on the ground below. It was followed by an avalanche of bricks and mortar as the whole front wall of the flat was blasted over the balcony to land with a tremendous crash onto the quadrangle below. The windows of the flat above containing the surveillance team glowed an evil cherry red before exploding outwards. Tongues of white-hot flame shot out, scorching the wall above the windows black before flicking out as quickly as they had come.

Then there was silence. Except for the steady roar of flame from a ruptured gas main somewhere. The balcony outside the flat dangled in tatters before slowly canting down to the ground with a screech of tortured steel. Flames billowed out of the gaping jagged hole in the building and there was brick dust and smoke everywhere. The whole side of the building was becoming obscured by the expanding cloud as it rose slowly into the air.

‘Jesus H Christ’ said Cheetham, stunned by the suddenness and scale of the destruction. He spoke for them all.

© Pointman

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