Line of Descent chapter 15

Chapter 15

The foundations of Cosgrave Hall had originally been laid by a beer baron of the early nineteenth century. Its blunt and unadorned features reflected the solid uncompromising attitudes of its builder. It consisted of a large two-story house to which two wings had been added by his more refined descendants. In a further attempt to soften the plain face it presented to the world, they had also covered the facade with a row of Doric pillars but the original asperity of its creator still shone through. It was set in nearly eighty acres of its own grounds enclosed by a high stone wall. The grounds within were mostly dense forestry with a large meadow‑like clearing in the middle for the house itself. It stood atop a slight hill in the clearing, with a fine view down the sloping meadow on all sides to the ring of forestry that surrounded it. A single road ran from the front gate up through the forestry to it. A smaller access road lead from the main house to a wooden summer-house that sat in its own large clearing, the only other structure on the estate.

By the middle sixties, the effect of creeping decadence and crippling taxes, compounded with their own financial incompetence, had forced his descendants to give it to the state in exchange for taxes due. They were glad to be rid of it and retreated with relief to a smaller but much more fashionable house in London. By that time, only the state or the very rich could afford the running costs of such a large country estate. The government had used it sporadically as a meeting place for departmental conferences and training symposiums but basically it was being allowed to run down. There was neither the money nor the will to maintain such a place. It was only a matter of time until it would be abandoned completely and left to rot.

It was saved by the unexpected mushrooming of terrorism in the early seventies. Suddenly, there was a need to have a place where conferences could be held in complete safety. A purpose-built facility would have taken too long to erect. Instead, it was decided to upgrade one of the flood of country houses that the government had come into possession of. As fortune would have it, Cosgrave Hall was chosen. It was reasonably close to both Gatwick and London, with good road links to both. It was completely refurbished and the latest generation of security systems installed. Having such a useful facility available, it seemed a shame for it to be used only occasionally. In the periods of idleness, it came to be used as the country residence of the incumbent Home Secretary simply because, of all the members of the government, he was the one at most risk from the more violent fringes of the terrorist groupings. Through the years, its security had been constantly updated as newer, more effective devices came to the market. By now, it was generally considered to be the most secure conference venue in the country.

It was just getting dark as Drayton and Krupmeyer pulled up outside the high wrought iron railings of the front gate. They waited while the security camera mounted on top of one of the gate pillars examined them. Presently a security man emerged through the side gate to check them out. He examined Drayton’s pass and returned inside the gate with it to ring the house. He came back to the car when they gave him the all clear and passed it back to Drayton. Before he allowed the car in, he asked them to get out of it, while he examined it. As they stood watching him search it, a second man inside the gate kept a watchful eye on them. Finally satisfied, the first guard signalled the second man to open the gates and reminded them to park in the secure car park located half a mile from the house. They would be met there and escorted up to the house. Drayton drove through the gate and carefully threaded the car through the maze of massive concrete blocks scattered on the road just inside the gate.

Drayton, in reply to Krupmeyer’s puzzled look as they inched through the maze said, ‘Remember your embassy in Beirut? The driver just smashed through the front gates and drove up to the building before exploding the car. Can’t happen here, he’d never get through this lot without being shot by the men on the gate.’ He indicated to a small wooden hut placed beside the maze which Krupmeyer had not noticed. In it a third guard watched their progress alertly.

They drove along the winding road towards the car park. The forest on either side of them was dark and impenetrable in the fading light of dusk. At intervals along the way, Krupmeyer saw security cameras mounted on little platforms high in the trees that lined the road. They were met at the car park by a man carrying a radio who again checked Drayton’s pass before taking the car keys and escorting them up the gravel drive to the house. He walked behind them the whole time. At the entrance, they were met by two more men who took them inside and searched them politely but thoroughly, especially Krupmeyer. He stood patiently still as they went through his pockets and followed that with a scan from a hand-held metal detector. Again, the activities in the lobby were covered by another two security men standing off to one side holding sub‑machine guns. They watched alertly as Drayton and Krupmeyer were searched, their eyes never straying from the pair.

‘This wouldn’t be a good time to have a sneezing fit, would it?’ said Krupmeyer to Drayton who ignored the remark.

Finally they were cleared. Drayton led Krupmeyer to a room off the lobby where they settled down to wait for the Minister to see them.

‘Pretty thorough’ announced Krupmeyer sitting down on a fragile looking gilt chair. It creaked ominously as he slouched down in it, getting comfortable.

‘They better be, or I’ll give them hell’ replied Drayton. He picked up a newspaper from the selection on top a small table between them and settled down to read.

‘So you’re in charge of them.’

Drayton looked up in irritation from the paper. ‘Only for the moment. By special request’ he added sourly, wondering why Campbell had saddled him with this particular responsibility.

It was his military background, he knew. He had come to the security services from military intelligence, which led Campbell and others to assume he naturally knew all about the more physical aspects of their business. The opposite was true. While in the army, he had always worked on the analysis and interpretation side and knew little or nothing about personal security, still less about protecting people from assassination. True, he had done the basic military courses and had went through all the training, but it was just an aspect of his early career that he had got out of the way with the minimum of fuss before moving on to the area that he had always wanted to work in. Intelligence. Brains, not brawn was more his style but it was always his origins in the military that were remembered. It was a label he had suffered from on more than one occasion and hoped that the team he had been put in charge of knew their stuff. As soon as Krupmeyer was called by the Minister, he was due to go over the security arrangements with them.

Eventually a butler appeared and took Krupmeyer in to see Walters. With him safely out of the way, Drayton left for the control room located on the first floor to see the security team leader. It was a sparse windowless room crammed with closed circuit television monitors and other security equipment. There was a bare work desk set against the wall at one side but the room was dominated by the large console in the middle. On top of it were three black and white monitors. After introducing himself, he asked for a rundown of the complete system. Harting, the man in charge, was pleased to oblige. He had been advised of Drayton’s arrival and was anxious to impress his new boss. He was in his late fifties with white wispy hair and wore wire rimmed glasses. The system was his pride and joy and the rare opportunity to show it off came as a pleasure.

‘Basically we’ve organised the security into rings of defence. The first ring is visual surveillance. Cameras at the gate and at intervals along top of the outside wall.’ He flicked switches on the console in front of him and Drayton watched the view change on the middle monitor on top of it. It was like a lightning tour around the perimeter of the estate.

‘There’s also an alarm wire strung along the top of the wall. More trouble than it’s worth really, always being set off by the squirrels’ he explained. Drayton could hear the irritation in his voice at this annoying peccadillo of his otherwise perfect system. No doubt, if Harting had his way, the squirrels would be in for a bit of a cull, thought Drayton.

‘Behind the wall is the second ring, pressure sensors buried in the ground for fifty metres from the wall. Naturally, we cut down all the trees in that area. They’re adjusted to react to the weight of something man‑sized. If they detect anything, the alarms go off and it shows the location automatically on that. The sector board’ he announced pointing to a large board on the wall in front of the console on which a map of the estate had been drawn.

Drayton examined it carefully. It had been divided into eight sectors with the centre being the house. Each of the rings of defence had been carefully denoted on it in bands of differing colour. It was studded with miniature lights to show the exact location of any alarm that was tripped.

‘Behind the pressure sensors is the third ring. More of the same really, but this time the sensors are looking for vibration just in case an intruder has been lucky enough to pick his way through the pressure sensors. We have problems with that as well. The bloody squirrels. There’s no way of keeping them out. It’s the oak trees, you see. They go for the acorns.’ He stabbed a button on the console and the view on the monitor changed to forest.

‘There’s not really much we can put in the forest. It’s under a preservation order. The last Minister slapped it on to please the eco lobby and it’s become a jungle. Just an excuse to save some money if you ask me’ he said chattily turning to Drayton to share a piece of gossip. Drayton smiled thinly but made no reply.

‘The fourth ring is detector beams. Lasers really. We criss cross the wooded and open areas with them. Very reliable and nearly invisible. Anything they detect is automatically shown on the sector board as well’ he said with a wave in its direction. ‘They’re placed a various heights off the ground’ he added quickly as if anticipating a question.

‘That’s the end of the passive systems around the outside. The fifth ring is the area patrolled by the dogs. They’re off the leash and trained not to go into the beamed area. Basically they wander around. If they see anything they go for it with a vengeance, believe you me’ he said with emphasis. Drayton got the impression that Harting did not like the dogs either. Maybe they fell into the same category as the squirrels. Unpredictable and imperfect creatures who didn’t quite fit into his perfect little system.

‘There’s a small wire fence to keep them from wandering into the grounds around the house. Behind that, is the car park and the kennels.’ He pressed buttons and Drayton saw his car neatly parked where he had left it. The kennels consisted of wire cages and wooden boxes with bitumen fibre roofing, all standing on grey cement. Someone was in one of the cages feeding a bowl of food to a Rottweiler. He stroked the back of its head as it wolfed down the food.

‘The area behind the dogs is patrolled regularly by our own men. Always two up and in contact with me here.’ He indicated to the mass of radio equipment installed in the console.

‘State of the art. A complete battlefield communications system with built‑in scrambling. I can talk to any guard on the estate and they can talk to me. It also flashes his location on the sector board. A blue light, instead of a red.’ He called the front gate to show Drayton. A blue light dutifully came on in the area where the front gate was shown on the board when the guard answered. Harting paused for applause.

‘Very neat’ said Drayton, feeling obliged to say something to the man. ‘What about the house?’

‘Just as good’ he replied. ‘All windows and entrances alarmed and under surveillance by video. All the window panes are made from bullet proof glass.’

‘What’s to stop a helicopter landing in front of the house?’ asked Drayton wondering if they had thought of that possibility.

Harting flicked a switch and the view on the monitor changed. It showed the flat roof of the house. Tucked away behind the gables he saw the ugly snout of a tactical radar set making slow circles around the sky. Beside it stood what looked like a rapier air defence launch box. The red tips of the surface to air missiles poked out of it, ready and waiting.

‘It’ll take anything out that approaches from the air’ said Harting with pride. ‘Dual seekers, infrared or radar homing.’

‘OK’ said Drayton with a rueful smile, ‘good enough. Give me a rundown of the staffing.’

‘Well, there’s a permanent domestic staff of three, all regularly vetted and cleared. Cook, butler and maid. They’re supplemented on big occasions by more brought in from the city. The guard detail consists of three at the front gate, six arranged into three two‑man patrols around the grounds and six more inside the house. We operate a staggered two shift system so there’s always an extra six men resting in the house. I’ve distributed the seven extra men you sent between the gate and the patrols. Except for myself, that’s it’ he finished.

‘What about communications?’

‘Well there’s the telephone and radio. We might lose one, but not both. However, just as a stand‑by, there’s a dedicated land line to the local police station.’

‘What about armament?’

‘Every man on guard duty carries a Heckler and Koch MP5 sub‑machine gun as well the handgun of their own choice. They’ve all been checked out to combat grade marksmen standard. We test them regularly, to keep them on their toes. There are more weapons stored here just in case.’ He indicated a padlocked steel cupboard that stood bolted against one wall of the room.

‘What about power supplies?’

‘We’ve never had a failure yet but there’s a backup generator in an out building that kicks in if there’s any interruption. We test it regularly’ he added, anticipating Drayton’s next question.

Harting was justifiably proud of the system, thought Drayton, but there was an air of smugness about him that was worrying. The disaster at the safe house had occurred because of that type of over confidence. He decided to do something about it.

‘I want to speak to the next shift, right now’ he ordered.

Harting summoned them to the control room. When they had shuffled in and settled, Drayton stood in front of the sector board until there was complete silence.

‘You’ve already been alerted of the high possibility of an attempt on the Minister’s life’ he began.

‘Well, I don’t think it’s a possibility.’ He paused, looking from face to face about the room.

‘I think it’s a certainty.’ He let it sink in.

‘The man who’s going to make the attempt is called Canfield. Earlier this morning he went through a whole team of special forces people. They underestimated him. They’re all dead.’ He paused again, pleased to see the sobering effect of his words.

‘They had all the training, all the tech and all the advantages. But they made that one mistake.’ He spoke each phrase slowly and deliberately, hammering it home.

‘I, however, am not going to make that mistake and neither are you. I want maximum alertness, maximum effort. If in doubt, shoot first’ he said, emphasising the last command. ‘You won’t get a second chance.’

Heads about him nodded.

‘If that means the loss of Auntie Gertie climbing over the wall to protest about the new bypass, then that’s tough on Auntie Gertie, do you understand?’

This time, some of the nods were accompanied by grins. Good, he thought, pleased to finish on a high note. He was satisfied he had shaken them up enough. He dismissed them and arranged with Harting to see the next shift when they came off duty. He went back to the lobby to see if Krupmeyer was finished with Walters. He’d have to arrange transport back to the city.

The butler ushered Krupmeyer into the great man’s presence and retired silently, leaving Krupmeyer standing inside the door. He crossed the study and sat down in the chair in front of the desk. He watched patiently for a while as Walters worked on some papers, ignoring him.

‘Haven’t you ignored me long enough?’ he enquired of Walters, leaning across the desk to put his large hand on top of Walters’ pen. Walters looked up and jerked his hand free. He disliked physical contact, especially when it was uninvited. Krupmeyer grinned loutishly at him, reading his distaste for touch.

‘You’re already in deep trouble’ said Walters, wiping his hand unconsciously as if clearing any stain left on it by Krupmeyer’s. ‘And I’m the person who’s going to decide your fate. I would advise you to be more careful.’

Krupmeyer just looked back at him as if he was something objectionable he had just picked off the heel of his shoe and said nothing. Walters soldiered on.

‘I don’t think you realise how serious the position you’re in is.’ He paused to see what reply Krupmeyer would make. Krupmeyer took his time before answering.

‘You mean your attempted murder of an American citizen? His unlawful imprisonment and detention? And now more veiled threats? I know the position all right. I know yours too. You’re up to your ears in shit, hoping to bluff your way out of it by throwing a scare into me.’

‘Attempted murder? Don’t be ridiculous. Any danger you were in was caused by your compatriot Canfield. As for imprisonment, you have never, at any time, been under any restraint’ he replied hotly.

‘Sure’ said Krupmeyer, ‘those goons back at the safe house were acting on their own initiative and didn’t have orders to grease us both. Their Mickey Mouse watches were on the blink. I wonder what American papers would make of a story like that? Ten minutes early? Bullshit, do you think I’m an idiot?’

Walters sat quietly digesting what Krupmeyer had said. The man was right of course but the situation was containable. His manner changed, all pretence of officious indignation disappearing, as he abandoned the ploy. They regarded each other across the desk for a moment.

‘There’s only your word that they came in early’ said Walters, giving Krupmeyer an even look.

‘I can be awfully convincing’ replied Krupmeyer imitating the Minister’s accent in a fey voice. He was whistling in the dark and knew it. Between Walters and Cheetham, he knew he would not stand much chance of a hearing from the fringe rags, never mind the national press. They might even deny the incident had ever occurred at all. But adverse publicity was always a useful card to play with a politician.

‘Perhaps’ said Walters, ‘but I think not. You and the organisation you represent were marginalised a long time ago. Just another vociferous pressure group. You have a lot of them in America, I believe.’ He was back in charge of the meeting and regaining his composure.

‘Why don’t you just ask whatever it was you brought me here to find out’ said Krupmeyer. He had racked his brains for a reason behind the summons on the way down in Drayton’s car and had come to a tentative conclusion. He was about to test it out.

‘And what would that be?’ asked Walters with a smirk. This guy leads with his face, thought Krupmeyer.

‘Did Canfield mention anything about the English prisoners from Korea.’ The words wiped the smile off Walters’ face. Krupmeyer grinned. It was a pretty wild guess but it had been spot on, judging from the reaction. Walters actually spluttered before he could make a denial. He need not have bothered, his face had already given it away.

‘If you go around spreading a vile rumour like that, I guarantee that we’ll find the deepest darkest hole in the most God forsaken spot of what remains of the empire, and drop you down it. And your own people won’t give a damn. Believe me.’

Krupmeyer grinned across the desk at him. His empty threats did not matter to him, he had unearthed an unexpected admission in this mess. So that was why they were working so closely with Washington on this case. They both shared the same guilty secret.

‘I take it, that ends the interview?’ he asked sardonically, rising from his seat.

‘Get out’ was all the reply that Walters could muster. He stabbed at a button on his desk to summon the butler. Krupmeyer was escorted from the study and back to the waiting room off the lobby where he found Drayton waiting for him.

‘How’d it go?’ asked Drayton wondering at the ear to ear grin. Walters had obviously had the worst of the encounter, he thought, judging from Krupmeyer’s manner.

‘I pity you, having to work for an asshole like that’ announced Krupmeyer. ‘If he’s in charge, Canfield is going to cream you all.’

‘Yes, Canfield has turned out to be a bit more of a handful than we’d thought. Remarkable man, really’ said Drayton, ‘but we’ll find him soon.’

‘Oh yeah’ said Krupmeyer, ‘do you know where Chaika is?’

‘No’ said Drayton, puzzled at the turn in conversation.

‘Well I didn’t either. I had to look it up in the Library of Congress. It’s in Tadzhikistan. You can look that up too. Canfield escaped from a camp there and crossed nearly two and a half thousand miles from it to Riga. Without making contact. Not once. The Ruskies never even got a chance to stop him. Chaw on that one, cousin’ he said delivering the earthy hillbilly expression with a fine Okie accent.

Drayton did. They had already found him twice. Once when he bungled the reconnaissance of Cosgrave Hall and again at the safe house. He crosses the whole of continental Russia without being detected, and we find him twice in five days, thought Drayton. He remembered Krupmeyer’s remark about Canfield seeming to be waiting for them. We’ve been lucky or have we been just too lucky, he thought?

That was stupid. Why in God’s name would he allow himself to be caught? What would he get from being arrested, for God’s sake? The answer crept into his head. Access to the police station. The land line. That had to be it. It could only be to sabotage it.

What about the safe house? What was that all about then? We knew about it and we know he was aware of it because he disconnected the bugs. He was just waiting there for us to arrive. What had he gained from that? What did it accomplish except scaring the hell out of us? It scared us into hiding Walters here, came the thought unbidden.

With a mixture of horror and admiration, it all started falling into place. Suddenly, all the loose ends met at the same point and that point was Cosgrave Hall. He gets arrested by a country copper outside the Minister’s estate and what’s worse, in front of a bus load of witnesses. He kills Vinton, making no attempt to hide his face and deliberately walks in front of a security camera. He asks a thoroughly penetrated organisation for a safe house and then sits in it patiently until we arrive, puffing and panting, at the door. Canfield had been manoeuvring them into this very location from the start. He was the one pressing the buttons and we were the ones doing what he wanted. Having manoeuvred them into this location, he wouldn’t hang about. That meant he must be outside at this very moment, ready to make his attempt. There was one way to check. Drayton looked up from his thoughts at Krupmeyer.

‘You won’t be going home tonight, I’m afraid.’ He saw the baffled frown on his face, enjoying for once being a step ahead of him.

‘It’s going to be a long and interesting night. Come on upstairs to the control room, and I’ll tell you what’s actually been going on.’

© Pointman

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