Line of Descent Chapter 21
‘You did the right thing’ said Drayton handing him a glass of whiskey from the bottle Harting had produced from somewhere. Krupmeyer looked like he needed it. ‘If you’d stayed, he’d have got the lot of you.’ Krupmeyer accepted the drink. His hand still shook from reaction and the brutal physical effort of the frantic dash back through the forest.
‘I know’ he said downing half of it in one gulp. It burned its way down his throat.
‘What’s his next move?’ asked Drayton.
‘It’s still got to be the generator’ replied Krupmeyer grimly.
Drayton took a sip from his drink. Those were his thoughts too. Why the Hell wasn’t it located inside the building in the first place, he wondered? There were so many holes in the defences of the place.
It was the same story. This situation had never been anticipated. The place was proof against the threat from intruders but cut off, against a military assault, it was too big and vulnerable to defend. The more men they lost, the harder it became to defend. Already, they were stretched too thin. If Canfield got inside the house, they were finished. A guard entered the control room and hurried over to Drayton, interrupting his thoughts.
‘He’s killed one of the men guarding the north side’ he said.
‘How’ asked Drayton rising.
‘He’s sniping from the edge of the forest. We can’t see him and he’s using a silencer.’
‘That explains why he hasn’t shot out the floodlights. They’re working to his advantage’ said Harting joining them.
‘Turn them off, right now’ ordered Drayton. There was no choice, the men would have to take their chances in the moonlight.
‘How about turning them on for a while every so often?’ suggested Krupmeyer. ‘We might catch him coming in.’
‘Good idea’ said Drayton. He turned to Harting. ‘Make it irregular, so he doesn’t know when it’s about to happen.’ Harting crossed to the console and killed the lights. Drayton turned to the guard.
‘Tell them what we’re doing and tell them to keep their heads down.’ The guard left to spread the word to the others. Drayton, at a loss for anything else to do immediately, sat back down to finish his drink. He thought for a moment then called Harting over.
‘This place is too big to defend adequately with the men we’ve got left. Is there a smaller building on the estate we could retreat to?’ he asked.
‘There’s only the summer house. It’s south of here, about half a mile away’ answered Harting. He did not look happy at the idea, noted Drayton. Neither was he.
‘Is it in the forest or out in the open?’ he asked.
‘Oh, it’s all open ground around it’ replied Harting.
Drayton looked at Krupmeyer enquiringly.
‘If he gets the generator, it’d be a better place to be’ he admitted with a shrug. ‘But getting there in the dark would be dangerous.’
‘Anything we do is going to be dangerous’ replied Drayton, running his hand through his hair while he thought. There were too many ground floor windows in the place to guard. If Canfield got the generator, they would lose the alarms on them. Once inside the house, he’d be impossible to winkle out, especially in darkness. They just had to hold the perimeter around the house. The summer house would be the last redoubt. If Canfield got the generator, they would head for it straight away, he decided. He finished his drink with a gulp.
‘I’m going out the check the guards’ he said putting the empty glass down. Krupmeyer watched as he straightened up carefully and left the room. He was limping heavily from the pellet wounds in his leg.
He walked down to the lobby. The man on guard inside the door switched off the light before opening the door to let him out.
‘Keep that off’ ordered Drayton sharply as he slipped past him. He ran across the patio and crouched behind the balustrade that flanked the steps up to the front door. He waited there a moment, peering into the darkness and recovering from the stab of pain he had received from his thigh when he knelt down. It had began to stiffen up. His back ached horribly. When he felt recovered enough, he scuttled along crouched down behind the balustrade until he reached the first post. The men there were well concealed behind their barricade of large concrete flower pots. Krupmeyer had done a good job, he thought. They were alert and said they were OK. Drayton left to check out the next one.
He was nearly there when the floodlights were switched on by Harting. He cursed him as he flattened down quickly but not before a shot smashed into the top of the balustrade, stinging his face with a spray of tiny stone chips. He lay stretched there, feeling vulnerable and terribly exposed, praying that Harting would switch them off soon. Another shot passed between the moulded railings of the balustrade, passing inches over him. He heard the wizz of it passing over his back before it smashed itself flat on the wall of the house. He flattened out further, thankful for the thickness of the bottom railing of the balustrade. Another shot smashed directly into it before the lights winked out. Drayton lay recovering in the darkness, feeling the aches he had completely forgotten under fire returning with a vengeance.
He got to his feet painfully and ran at a crouch to the next post. It was where the guard had been killed by Canfield’s sniping. He slid over the balustrade and lay down behind the plant pots with the two guards.
‘Have you see him?’ he asked peering carefully around the side of a pot and searching the treeline. In front of them, the lawn stretched unbroken to the forest. The moon moved out from behind a cloud and for a moment it was like daylight. He ducked back behind the pot.
‘Not a hair’ replied one of them. ‘He’s using a flash suppresser. We can’t see anything to shoot back at and these things are bloody useless at this range’ he said wiggling the sub‑machine gun he held.
‘We need rifles’ he said looking at Drayton accusingly. Drayton sympathised. Another oversight. Who’d have thought the guards might need rifles, he thought. A bullet passed over them hitting the wall behind. They all ducked and shards of stonework pattered down onto their backs. It was unnerving not to hear the shot being fired at you. You only knew you were under fire when you heard the evil whiz as the bullet flicked past you. Drayton turned his head to look behind. The wall there was already pock-marked from Canfield’s previous shots. He looked up at the moon and waited until it was well concealed behind a thick straggly cloud. He moved to the side and clambered back up over the balustrade, on his way to the next post.
When he got there, he found one of the guards giving first aid to his wounded companion. The bullet had caught him high on the collar-bone as he lay prone and was still embedded somewhere in his body. He was unconscious and his complexion was pale and waxy. Drayton did not like the look of him. He told the guard to get him back to Krupmeyer in the control room. They waited until the moon was obscured again and Drayton pushed the man over the balustrade to his companion who dragged him back towards the house. Drayton took over their position and settled down to wait until the guard came back.
It can’t go on like this, thought Drayton. He was taking them apart piecemeal. They’d lost two men in the last fifteen minutes alone. And yet they couldn’t go into the forest after him. The situation was intolerable, he had to change it. Defending the house and generator was rapidly becoming pointless, they would have to move to the summer house now. It was small and defensible. The trick was to keep Canfield busy while they got Walters and the wounded there. The guard returned with a companion and more bad news. Another guard had been picked off. That made up Drayton’s mind. He left them and made the hazardous journey back to the house.
When he got to the control room, he found Krupmeyer working on the wounded guard. He went over to him and asked how bad it was. Krupmeyer grimaced and shook his head slowly.
‘He needs a hospital and a real doctor, quick’ he replied as he taped a dressing over the entry hole. ‘He hasn’t got long unless he’s treated properly.’
‘Can he be moved?’ asked Drayton.
‘Only if there’s no choice’ said Krupmeyer reading his thoughts. ‘I take it we’re pulling out then?’ he asked.
Drayton nodded and called Harting over to tell him he had decided to retreat to the summer house. Walters, who until then had been hovering about the room ignored, interrupted vehemently at this point.
‘Are you mad?’ he asked, his face contorted into a mask of disbelief. ‘I’m not going out there with a manic like that running around outside.’
‘We’ve lost three men in the last half hour. If it continues at that rate, we won’t have enough men left to defend the perimeter’ explained Drayton.
‘So what?’ said Walters petulantly. Drayton’s back was hurting him terribly and Walters’ childish refusal to face the realities of the situation was trying his patience.
‘That means he can cut off the power. No light’ said Drayton pointing at the fluorescent lighting installed in the ceiling of the control room. ‘No lights, no alarms. We’d be blundering around in the dark with Canfield. We’ve got to move out to the summer house now.’
‘Rubbish. I’m staying here and I’m ordering you to stay as well’ replied Walters straightening up and glaring at Drayton in an attempt to regain his old authority. Drayton looked at him wondering what to do. The man was scared ‑ deeply scared.
‘Very well’ said Drayton with an exasperated finality. ‘You stay here, I’m pulling out with the rest of the men to the summer house.’
‘You can’t do that’ shouted Walters in sudden alarm, all pretence of authority fleeing as he considered the terrible thought.
‘Yes I can’ replied Drayton looking hard at him. ‘You insist on a suicidal course of action. In the circumstances, I’m forced to consider the welfare of the men under my command. I’m sorry, that’s the way it is. Come with us or stay. You’ll have to make your mind up’ he finished and waited for Walters to make his decision. It did not take long. Walters knew he was beaten as did Drayton who took no pleasure in his mumbled capitulation.
‘Very well, I’ll come’ came the almost inaudible reply.
Drayton almost felt sorry for him. Walters’ wars were bloodless. They were committee wars, wars of words and people and policies. In his own way, he was good at them. But this was a different kind of war, one that he simply couldn’t hack. It was too basic and brutal. Drayton knew he would have no more trouble from him.
He settled down with Krupmeyer to come up with a diversion to keep Canfield busy while they made the retreat to the summer house. It was south of them so they had to somehow pin Canfield down north of the house. Krupmeyer agreed to lead Walters and the wounded to it, while Drayton stayed behind with a rearguard to cover their flight.
Drayton would join the men at the northern post and wait for Canfield to fired on them. The moment he did so, they would fire back blindly at him, putting out as much fire as possible onto the flanks to keep him there. The plan was for the other men who were going to be part of the rearguard to immediately abandon their posts and run to reinforce Drayton. Once there, they would add their fire‑power to Drayton’s to keep Canfield pinned down. The others would make their way to the summer house under Krupmeyer’s command. Once there, they would fire three shots which would be the signal for the rearguard to pull back to them.
Drayton left to join the northern position while Harting made the rounds of the others, to tell the men there the plan. That left Krupmeyer and Walters to carry the wounded guard downstairs in preparation for the flight. Walters tidied the papers he had been working on in a desultory fashion, into the despatch box and tucked it under his arm. He could not manage to keep it there as well as support the wounded man. He left it down on the console.
‘I don’t suppose it matters now’ he said regretfully to Krupmeyer, as he took a proper grip around the guard’s waist.
‘Just not enough damn peace and quiet’ answered Krupmeyer unsympathetically as he pulled the guard’s arm across his neck and slipped his other arm about the waist. They staggered downstairs, carrying the guard, and into the kitchen at the back of the house. The staff there helped them put him in a chair near the back door. They would be leaving by that exit. He explained the plan to them and they settled down to wait for Drayton to start firing.