Line of Descent chapter 18
Drayton rolled to his feet, still not fully recovered from the exertion of collecting Williams’ body. He felt light-headed and his thighs ached. He told the original ambush team to stay where they were and ordered the reinforcements to follow him as he headed as fast as he could in the direction the explosion had come from.
It had come from the secure car park. All the vehicles there were ablaze, including Drayton’s. The group stood there, panting for breath after the dash up from the road ambush, watching their last means of escape going up in smoke while they stood by helplessly. Krupmeyer noticed that only he and Drayton had positioned themselves on the house side of the fires. All the rest were silhouetted by them to the forest. He started waving them around to his side. They obeyed in a puzzled fashion. Drayton noticed and looked at Krupmeyer but did not say anything. He did not need to. The implication was all too obvious to him. One of the men said there were fire extinguishers in the house. Drayton stopped him fetching one.
‘Let them burn’ he said in a quiet voice. ‘Someone might notice.’ He felt a sense of failure about the whole episode and resolved it would be the last. His scheme to defend the house was a good plan and still was, but Canfield had exploited their loss of communications to create a ruthless diversion. Thin out and misdirect the defence so he could sneak in for long enough to destroy the vehicles. He kicked himself for not putting someone on guard at the car park or simply moving the cars nearer the house. He had missed it but Canfield hadn’t, he reflected ruefully. You just couldn’t leave the man an opening.
He sent two of them to check out the remaining man of the two‑man ambush guarding that approach to the house. He had been left alone when his partner had rushed off to reinforce the road ambush. They found him dead in the treeline. The lookout on that side of the house had seen nothing. He had been distracted by the shooting from the road ambush, like the rest of them. Like we were meant to be, thought Drayton sickened by the thought of Williams’ life used to provide a diversion. He told them to go back to their positions and walked back to the house with Krupmeyer beside him.
‘Look’ said Krupmeyer at his elbow, ‘these guys are guards, not soldiers. You saw them back there. Perfect targets and they didn’t even know it. We’ve got to make a run for it. Take Walters, and get the hell out of here.’
Drayton marched on, head bent down in thought, ignoring him. Krupmeyer grabbed his arm and pulled him to a stop. Drayton freed it with a strong upward jerk of his arm. His fist stayed up in the air, threateningly. It would be nice to hit someone at this moment, he thought and lowered it slowly to his side.
‘Look at where the ambushes have been sighted, for Christ’s sake’ said Krupmeyer imploringly. ‘They’re half way into the trees. Talk about asking for it’ he finished in exasperation.
Drayton stared at Krupmeyer weighing his words. He was right. The ambushes would have to be re‑sited closer to the house, he concluded grudgingly. Canfield’s pressing us in, he thought, constantly forcing us back into the house.
‘I’m well aware of their shortcomings as infantry, Mr. Krupmeyer. Do you think they’d fare any better in a night retreat with Canfield snapping at their heels?’ he asked, putting his hands on his hips and glaring at Krupmeyer belligerently.
‘Maybe not, but here they’re sitting ducks. He’ll eat them up’ replied Krupmeyer with a dismissive sneer and stabbed a finger in the direction of the forest. He was getting angry too. They were in a situation he knew something about and yet Drayton had been treating him like a civilian. He was damned if he was going to sit making sandwiches while Canfield cut his way through them.
‘Well, have you got any bright suggestions?’ asked Drayton his temper wearing thin.
‘Yes’ replied Krupmeyer. ‘Let’s get ahead of him for once.’
‘And how exactly do you propose we do that?’
‘The power. It’s the last thing he needs to take out before he can get into the house, he’s done everything else. He’s got to cut the power.’
‘We can’t stop him cutting it, can we?’ said Drayton indicating to the overhead electricity line that ran up to the house from out of the forest. Canfield could cut it anywhere in the forest. ‘When he does, the stand‑by generator will kick in automatically.’
‘Exactly’ said Krupmeyer. They had passed the shed containing the generator on the way back to the house. They had heard the low steady hum as it turned over slowly in readiness.
‘He’ll have to go for that’ he said, indicating in the general direction of the generator shed. ‘That’s where we can lay a real ambush for him. He’s got to turn up there sometime.’
After a moment’s thought, Drayton slowly grinned at Krupmeyer, his spirits rising. Now, there was an opening they could leave for Canfield, he thought with relish. Krupmeyer grinned back. The camaraderie of the mutually endangered was growing up between them.
‘You’re dead right’ admitted Drayton, clapping him on the shoulder. ‘Since you appear to know what you’re doing, re‑sight the ambushes nearer the house and I’ll organise something for the generator shed.’ Krupmeyer turned to go, relieved to have a real job to do but it was Drayton’s turn to grab him by an arm.
‘Listen, if you have any more ideas like that, knock me down, if that’s what it takes to get me to listen’ he said releasing him. Krupmeyer shrugged with a smile and walked off to reorganise the perimeter. Drayton watched his retreating back, grateful to have someone with real military experience around. The right sort of experience too, he thought. This was definitely guerrilla war.
Krupmeyer worked his way around to each of the four ambush sites, careful to make a noisy approach. He did not want to get mistaken for Canfield, like the unfortunate Williams, and get shot down by his own side. He withdrew them out of the treeline and nearer the house. In each case, he positioned them so they had a clear field of fire both in front and on the flanks and that the fields of fire from each position had some overlap with the others. Where possible, he made sure they backed onto something high, so they would not be silhouetted by the flood lights mounted on the sides of the house. In the absence of entrenching tools to dig in, he had them use large concrete pots containing plants for cover. The men rolled them off the patio that surrounded the house and positioned them in front and to the sides of each position. He scrutinised each finished post and reminded the men that the orders were still the same ‑ shoot on sight. Finally satisfied, he walked back into the house.
Drayton had gathered in the three two‑man patrols that he had decided to use for the ambush at the generator shed and had already outlined a plan by the time Krupmeyer appeared. Drayton was distributing extra weapons from the arms cupboard when he entered the control room.
‘Ready to go?’ enquired Krupmeyer holding his hand out to Drayton for a weapon. Drayton looked at him for a moment before putting a pistol into his hand. Krupmeyer ejected the magazine and checked the number of rounds in it. He slapped it back in and cocked it, careful to check that the first round was properly chambered. He flicked the safety on and looked up at Drayton and nodded. He was ready to go.
Drayton’s plan was simple. He explained it to Krupmeyer as they walked down to the generator shed. He and a guard would start patrolling in front of the shed in plain sight, to draw Canfield out, while four others were distributed behind and around it in a crescent. The remaining two men would be placed behind each horn of the crescent to cover their back and flanks, in case Canfield attempted to sneak around behind them. Drayton and the guard arrived at the hut well ahead of the others, who quietly took up hiding places at their assigned positions. Krupmeyer was on the left horn of the crescent facing out towards the forest from which they expected Canfield to appear.
He found a stoop of furze bushes, and after buttoning his jacket and turning up the collar to conceal his white shirt, squirmed into the overgrown mass, working his way through the natural tunnels at ground level towards the front. The thorns snagged against his clothes and tore at his hands as he fought his way through. He finally stopped, three feet short of the front of the thicket and extended both arms. The gun he was holding was just a few inches in from the edge. Perfect. He flicked off the safety and laying the gun down on its side carefully, picked up a handful of dirt. He rubbed it over his face. He did it several times, hoping he wasn’t leaving any white patches. He did the same with his hands. When he was satisfied, he stretched both arms out in front of him. He picked up the gun in his right hand and resting the butt in the palm of the other one, settled down to wait.
It wasn’t the best place to have to lay an ambush, he thought, but they had no choice about the location. There were a lot of bushes in front of the shed that Canfield could use to sneak up close without being spotted. They would have to be very alert. When it came, it would be sudden. He could see Drayton and the other guard from his position. They paced about, guns at the ready, occasionally stopping to peer into the trees and bushes. They looked alone and terribly vulnerable. It reminded him of the young goats staked out to attract a lion for big game hunters. He wondered if that sort of thing still happened. You couldn’t fault them for guts, he thought, thankful for the relative safety of his part in the ambush. Canfield might cut the overhead lines first, then go for the generator shed. Or he might take the generator out first. Either way, they were now ready and waiting.
Time passed slowly with no sound but the slight crunch on the gravel of Drayton and the guard’s footsteps as they paced in front of the hut. His arms started to ache and he tried to ignore them. He cursed the jacket which was cutting off the circulation to them in this position. Finally, when they were nearly numb and he could not bear it any longer, he rolled onto his side as quietly as possible and slowly withdrew his arms back to his chest. He held them there, feeling the blessed relief of the blood coursing back into them while he twisted his head awkwardly to keep Drayton in sight. He knew how totally dependant they were on the others alertness. When his neck could not stand the strain any more, he rolled quietly back to his fully extended position.
It seemed to go on for hours. Time dragged with nothing to do but stare at the thickets in front of him and watch Drayton and the guard pacing back and forth. His eyes began to water as he tried too hard to see into the patchy darkness. The view seemed to change subtly as clouds moved across the moon varying the thin pale light it was putting out. He had taken his watch off as they had walked down to the shed. It was in his jacket pocket but he did not dare wiggle around to take it out. His arms ached and he wondered if they would have enough strength when the time came, if it ever did.
He rolled onto his side once more to give his aching arms a moments release. As he rolled back into position, he heard the crack of a small explosion echoing back to them from somewhere far off in the forestry. It was followed by a crashing sound, like a felled tree falling through the canopy of a forest. It had to be one of the electricity poles being blown down. Canfield was making his move. The floodlights behind him at the house dimmed momentarily before the generator in the shed kicked in automatically. Its noise immediately picked up and rose to a higher, busier pitch. He saw Drayton turn instinctively to look behind him at the shed. It saved his life.
Suddenly, with the dimming of the light, there was movement just at the periphery of Krupmeyer’s vision. On the left. One moment there was nothing, the next a black figure burst from nowhere, running at full charge, half obscured by the shrubs. He was smashing straight through the waist-high bushes, working the slider on a pump-action shotgun furiously. The first deafening blast hit the guard beside Drayton, hoisting him off his feet to smash into the side of the shed. Before he had even hit the ground, a second one had caught Drayton who dropped out of sight.
Krupmeyer had just enough time to take a bead as the man charged by in front of him at a range of about fifty feet. The first shot was aimed and good. Krupmeyer saw the figure jerked suddenly to the side. He emptied the whole magazine rapidly, firing blindly through the growing cloud of gunsmoke in front of him. He aimed progressively lower, hoping to catch him wounded on the ground. The old electric terror of contact surged through him, galvanising the body into action on an adrenaline high, but he wasn’t a nineteen year old kid any more. By the time the gun clicked empty, his heart was thudding and his stomach was tied into jumping painful knots. He dropped his sweat drenched head on the ground and raggedly exhaled the breath he had been holding while firing the clip off. Somewhere in there, he had split the arms clean off his jacket at the armpits. They were hanging off, like the sleeve covers of a Nevada card sharp.
The firing from the others around him died down. He took a steadying breath and pushed his way out through to the front of the bush, ignoring the thorns. He climbed up onto one knee but stayed there, crouched down, looking at the spot where he had last seen Canfield. He was joined by one of the others.
‘I’m out’ Krupmeyer said, holding up his pistol and ejecting the empty magazine. He didn’t have any spares. The guard, who was carrying a sub‑machine gun, plucked an automatic out of his shoulder holster and quickly handed it to him in silence, without once taking his eyes off the spot where Canfield had gone down. Krupmeyer pushed him off to the left and hooked his hand in an encircling motion.
‘Circle left, I’ll take the right’ he whispered, checking the magazine of the automatic. He slammed it back in and cocked it. An unspent bullet flew off into the night air, ignored. Double checking the safety, he scuttled to the right at a running crouch. He decided not to go to ground. If he’d really hit Canfield, now was the time to press the advantage, before he could get his act back together. He moved from bush to bush quickly, the pistol held out in front of him, straight armed.
He was nearly there, when there was an explosion from the area where the other guard was circling in from. The edge of the blast caught him, knocking him sprawling on his back. He rolled with it onto his stomach and pointing the gun out in front, frantically scanned the bushes before him for movement. Before he could fire, there was another explosion followed by several more in quick succession. He flattened himself in terror as pieces of rock and shrapnel zipped over his head, slicing through the bushes and vegetation with small vicious snicks. The earth beneath him heaved in spasms, bouncing him inches off it. Each time, he frantically flattened himself down again but he was sure he was going to die. The ground was a flat as a board. There just wasn’t any cover. He waited with his hands pressed over his head to get hit.
Finally the explosions stopped. He lay there in the shocked silence, his ears still ringing from the fury of the explosions, not daring to raise his head. Eventually, he slowly climbed to his feet. About him, others were doing the same. They looked at each other, amazed to have lived through it. It had been like being on the receiving end of an artillery barrage. He advanced slowly to the spot where Canfield had dropped from sight. There was some blood on the ground all right, but not a lot. He reached down to touch it and though for a moment about trying to follow the blood trail, but abandoned the idea immediately. They’d been lucky enough, following someone like Canfield in the dark would be suicidal.
Out in the forest, one of the guard dogs howled as it caught a scent and closed in on it. It had to be Canfield. They listened, standing silently in the shattered vegetation, as it was joined by the frantic baying of a second. They could just make out the thrashing sounds of a struggle as the dogs finally reached their quarry and tore into it, snarling and growling. The barking and growling of the attacking animals’ frenzy rose to a sustained crescendo that echoed back to them through the dark emptiness of the forestry. There was something primordial about the sound, like an old race memory of a wolf attack when the world was young and covered in dark and dangerous forests. You heard it and deep down in your guts were secretly grateful it was happening to someone else.
‘Rip the bastard to bits, you beauties’ muttered one of the guards, his words breaking the silence. He said it through clenched teeth, with feeling.
Krupmeyer realised just how much he echoed the sentiment. He was tired and scared and just wanted it over with. He’d screwed up by following in so soon, he knew. He should have waited and blasted the area Canfield had gone down in. Instead, he’d advanced ‑ right into Canfield’s fighting retreat. They stood listening till the noises died down with a final piercing yelp of pain from one of the animals, that set their teeth on edge. Somehow, he knew in his bones, that the dogs hadn’t got him. It would have been too easy. Nothing about Canfield was going to be easy.
He turned and walked back towards the shed, wiping the blood distractedly from his fingers with a handkerchief he pulled from the pocket of his ruined jacket. He stopped the others who had started to follow after him.
‘Spread out, make a perimeter, for Christ’s sake’ he ordered gruffly as he tore the sleeves off his jacket and flung them down on the ground.
A man was already kneeling down beside Drayton, looking after him. A quick glance told him the other guard was beyond help. Nearly cut in two by the shotgun blast. What the hell was Canfield using in the cartridges, he wondered, glancing at the wall of the generator shed which was covered in deep jagged holes, where the rendering had been blasted off to reveal the naked brickwork underneath. He knelt down beside Drayton, unceremoniously elbowing the man already there aside, to look him over.
Drayton had been turning to look at the shed when Canfield had attacked. Half of the back of the bullet proof vest he was wearing was ruined. Krupmeyer could see the smashed ceramic plates in it through the ripped Kevlar and tufts of padding that stuck out of holes in it. He rolled him gently onto his back and released the Velcro seals under the arms before easing it off him. He rolled him gently back onto his stomach and examined him carefully. He was unconscious from the shock of the impact but not seriously injured. He’d taken a few pellets in the back of the upper right arm and the right leg. Canfield had been shooting for centre body mass. The jacket had saved him ‑ he’d be OK. Krupmeyer stood up. One of the perimeter guards jogged back to him.
‘He’s not the only one, I’m afraid’ he said jerking his thumb over his shoulder. Krupmeyer told the first man to stay with Drayton and walked off with the other one to look at the casualties. There were two of them, and they were very dead. Killed by the explosives or grenades Canfield had lobbed to cover his retreat. Krupmeyer straightened them out and told the guard to strip them of all their arms and ammunition.
He left two men on guard at the generator, while he and the remaining one carried the semiconscious Drayton up to the house.
They’d hit back, but it had cost them dear, he reflected bitterly, as they struggled back, each with one of Drayton’s arms about their necks.