Line of Descent chapter 16

Chapter 16

By the time they reached the control room, Drayton had explained his reasoning to Krupmeyer. He agreed with Drayton’s conclusions. It all fitted together too damn well.

‘You’re right. You should have seen that mob in Coole’ he said. ‘They weren’t exactly world-class. A pop with an idiot son. It wouldn’t be like Canfield to rely on a bunch of flakes like that.’

‘Why did he wait eight months?’ mused Drayton.

‘God knows, maybe it took that long for him to scout out Vinton and Walters.’ Bingham and Thackery as well, thought Drayton. Canfield had worked his way back up the whole chain of command.

‘If the land line’s out, we’ll know for sure’ said Drayton, pushing open the door. Harting looked up from the console at their entrance.

‘They’re just changing shifts now’ he said, assuming Drayton was there to give his talk to the guards coming off duty.

‘Never mind that’ said Drayton. ‘I want you to test the land line to Burham police station.’ Harting complied after a moment with a puzzled look. He picked up a telephone receiver that hung on the side of the console and put it to his ear. It gave a dialling tone.

‘It’s OK’ he told Drayton with a puzzled smile.

‘No. Try using it’ said Drayton with exasperation. Harting pressed the dial button and heard it ringing.

‘It’s ringing’ he said holding the receiver against his ear. He waited for an answer but there was none.

‘They’re rather slow answering’ he said with an apologetic smile. He let it ring for several minutes. There was no answer.

‘OK. Never mind that. Try the ordinary line’ said Drayton leaning over the console.

Harting put the receiver down reluctantly. He picked up a second phone and dialled his home number. His wife would be back from the office by now, he knew. It rang for several minutes but there was no answer. He put the receiver down and dialled the operator. Again it rang insistently but there was no reply. He dialled the speaking clock with the same result. He put the receiver down and looked at Drayton with disbelief.

‘I didn’t think that was possible. He’s re-routed all our calls to a single phone somewhere. I’m sure of it. Hang on, I’ll try the radio phone.’ He flicked a switch on the console and leaned over to speak into the microphone. He called the gate but they did not reply. Instead, there was a ear‑piercing screech from the speaker. Harting immediately stepped down the volume. The sound oscillated up and down, reminding Drayton of the parlour trick of playing music on a saw.

‘He’s jamming us’ said Harting. He changed channels, with the same result. He fiddled with switches and dials for several more minutes before turning back to Drayton. His face was grim.

‘We’re cut off. He’s isolated us completely.’

He looked at Drayton with a mixture of shock and indignation. Drayton could not suppress a momentary pang of pity for him. All his wonderful devices subverted, and cleverly too. It was a neat touch, letting them ring rather than just cutting them off. He wondered what was happening to incoming calls. Were they all going to the same phone?

‘Right’ said Drayton. ‘We know he’s out there then. Are we due any visitors this evening?’

‘No, none that I’m aware of’ answered Harting.

‘Does anyone from security call us to check we’re OK?’

‘Don’t be silly, we’re supposed to be secure. If we need help, we call them’ he replied looking down at the now useless phones. Drayton took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Time to go onto the offensive. He turned to the guard standing at the door.

‘Tell the men going on shift that Canfield’s outside now. They can expect action tonight. Put them on a war footing.’ The guard hurried from the room as Drayton turned back to Harting.

‘Can you pinpoint where the jamming is coming from?’

‘I can get a bearing from here but I’ll need two. I’ll rig up something portable to take a reading outside. Ten minutes, tops’ he added anticipating Drayton’s next question.

Drayton nodded. When the guard returned, he told Drayton that he had passed the message on but he had missed the new gate detail. They had already left. Harting asked him to take over the console while he rigged the direction finder. He could go down to the gate after. Drayton and Krupmeyer watched as Harting ripped one of the portable radios apart, to jerry rig the device. Good as his word, he had something ready within the ten minutes.

‘It’s fairly primitive, I’m afraid. But it should be good enough for our purposes’ he said. He turned it on and moved it slowly in a circle until the screeching sound seemed loudest. When he was satisfied that he had the direction, he dug around in a drawer of the console. He pulled out a map of the estate and walked over to the work desk set against the wall. He opened it on the desk and drew a line on it. ‘I’ll be back in a minute’ he said leaving the room.

While he was gone, Drayton pondered the next move. It was vital to get back in touch with the outside world. If they could locate and destroy the jammer, the could call in the reinforcements. What was really worrying him was the loss of contact with the guards at the gate and the others, scattered around the grounds, patrolling.

If the sensors detected Canfield, he would not be able to concentrate them in the area. The guards at the gate would have to be warned. The other patrols would have to be located and brought in closer to the house. Within hailing range, he thought with a chagrined expression. Canfield had gone straight for the throat. Without radio contact, he was obliged to keep his forces concentrated or lose the advantage of numbers. But he wasn’t going to surrender the grounds to Canfield. He’d have to keep them patrolling, but a lot nearer to the house.

Harting returned soon. He crossed to the desk and drew a second line on the map. Drayton, watching over his shoulder, saw the two lines intersected at the front gate. They both raced over to the console, where Harting pressed buttons until they had a view of the front gate and the guard post there.

Fielding walked down the road with Phillips and Gogarty following behind him. He was in charge of the new shift of guards relieving the men on duty at the front gate. When the came into view of the concrete blocks, he saw one of the guards he was supposed to be relieving draped across one of the concrete blocks. Blood oozed from ugly exit wounds in his back. Fielding froze instantly and dropped into a crouch. He waved the other two guards into the trees on either side. Phillips to the left and Gogarty to the right. He waited until the flankers were well into the trees before doing anything.

He shucked off his jacket and dropped it on the Tarmac, all the time keeping a grip on the sub‑machine gun he carried. He took his automatic out of the shoulder holster and after cocking it, and making sure the safety was off, stuck it into his belt. The killer had to be in front of them somewhere. If he’d been behind, he’d have already hit them on the road as they passed. Bunched up like that, it would have been too good an opportunity to miss. That meant they had disturbed him or he’d have been waiting for them. Good, now all he had to do was flush him by coming up the middle and let the flankers take him out. And survive, of course, he reminded himself. He pressed the transmit button on the radio and spoke into it in hushed tones.

‘Control, it’s Fielding. Code red, code red at front gate. Come back control.’ He pressed the receive button but there was no reply, just the sudden loud hiss of static. He quickly turned down the volume and tried again with the same result.

‘Control, if you can hear me, this is Fielding. I’m at the front gate. The detail here have been hit. I can see one man down. Repeat, one man down. Over’ he finished. Nothing came back but the same static hiss. He pressed the transmit button again.

‘I don’t know if you can hear me, we’re going in to investigate. Fielding, over and out.’ He clicked it off and put it down on the road as quietly as possible.

He looked into the trees on either side. The flankers could not be seen. They must be in position by now, he thought, they’d had enough time. He straightened up and sprinted to the nearest concrete block. From behind it, he peeked out. All that was visible, was the dead guard draped across a block in front of him and the guard’s hut to the right. It looked empty. If the killer was still around, he’d either be hiding in the blocks or inside the small wooden hut that overlooked them. If he was in the trees, he was the flankers’ problem. He decided to stay on the left, keeping the dead guard between him and the hut.

He sprinted at a crouch to a block on the left. His pulse raced. He felt so exposed here in the road. Thank God for the blocks. He looked to the right and saw Gogarty covering him, just in from the trees. Phillips was visible on the left. Fielding stabbed his finger at the hut, indicating silently to Gogarty to check it out. He’d cover him. He turned to Phillips and with spread fingers indicated he was to stay where he was and cover their backs. Phillips nodded, getting the message, and retreated a few feet back into the trees. They were a good team, he thought.

Gogarty crept out of the treeline and slithered along the bank that ran along the road. He looked over at where Fielding crouched and indicated he was going to check behind the hut first before circling around to the front. Fielding’s eyes flicked between the hut and the trees behind it, frantically looking for movement. Gogarty disappeared from view behind the hut. Fielding waited tensely for him to reappear at the other side. Gogarty eventually came around the corner, crouched down, pressed against the hut. He slithered up to a standing position beside the door and looked over at Fielding. Fielding half rose from cover and resting his gun on top of the block, nodded to him. He was ready. Gogarty took a half step back, then kicked in the door.

There was a blinding explosion. The wooden hut disintegrated. Gogarty’s body was projected into the air and fell amongst the concrete blocks. His gun clattered to the ground nearby. Fielding, although sheltering behind the massive concrete block, was still knocked onto his back by the blast and lay there momentarily stunned as pieces of wood rained down on him. He rolled onto his stomach and recovering his gun, started crawling rapidly back the way he had come. His ears still rang from the noise of the explosion. The bastard had enough time to booby trap the hut, he thought. Were there any more? Was Phillips about to wander into another one in the trees? He shouted into them at him.

‘Look out for booby traps. Back to the house, back to the house. Cover me.’ He squirmed past the last block and climbed to his feet behind it. He looked back the way he had retreated but could not see any movement. Now would be the time for Canfield to open up. He could hear Phillips retreating in the trees on his left. He waited until he heard him stop and shouted.

‘I’m moving. Cover me.’ He straightened up and ran into the trees towards Phillips. It was only five yards of open ground but he felt horribly vulnerable for the few seconds it took to cover it. At any moment, he expected to feel the bullet smashing into his back. He reached the cover of the trees and plunged in gratefully to grab Phillips. They must get back to the house and warn them. He ran straight onto the skinning knife that had killed Phillips but a moment before. In his last dying moment, he knew with cruel certainty how badly they’d been suckered. Canfield had been behind them all the time, waiting to catch them on the retreat from the booby trap.

From the control room, they had watched helplessly as the drama unfolded. They saw the booby trap go off and Gogarty’s lifeless body flung into the maze of blocks. They saw the tiny doll‑like figure of Fielding frantically slither back to the start of the blocks and the final desperate dash into the trees.

After a moment, a figure emerged from the trees to stand in the road. He was wearing a black assault suit with various bags hanging from the body harness he wore. He was bare-headed, his face seeming unnaturally pale in contrast to the clothes. In his right hand he held a blade. They could see the blood on it. He ran the forefinger of the other hand slowly along the flat of it, scooping blood off it. He turned his hand back and forth, watching the blood run around the finger. He stopped and looked at the finger for a while, then carefully streaked his face with the blood. His finger went back to the blade and scooped more blood off it for his face. He did it several times, slowly and meticulously, until the blade was clean and his face looked raw and red, as if it had been flayed.

He slipped the knife carefully into an upside down sheath strapped to his left forearm and walked towards the camera. He stared up at it a moment. The paleness of his face was gone. He had done a good job. There wasn’t a natural line left to it. Except for the eyes, they were calm, lifeless and empty, which was all the more frightening. He raised a pistol carefully and shot out the camera. Everyone in the control room flinched.

© Pointman

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