Line of Descent Chapter 23
Drayton lay prone, squeezed between the other two men at the northern post. In front of them, the lawn stretched out in the moonlight to the treeline. Nothing moved or made a noise, not even his companions whose breathing had become almost inaudible. The moonlight turned the carefully tended lawn into a silvery white bed of down. It looked almost like it was covered in snow. There was a ghostly serenity and beauty to the scene, as if it were a picture on a tasteful Christmas card, that hinted only indirectly at the season of peace and goodwill.
But the edge of the forest was dark and foreboding. In its darkness lurked death, and they knew it. His eyes searched restlessly over it, looking in vain for a trace of their invisible tormentor. Canfield could be in there now, flitting from bush to bush silently. Drayton heard the dull thud of a round hitting the masonry of the building. It came from their right, about where the eastern post was located, he realised. The noise reverberated across the lawn and back into the forest. They waited for more but there was none.
Time passed slowly. He hoped Canfield was working his way around to them. Maybe they would catch him moving into position. He eyed the beginning of the forest to his right but it was so thick and dark that nothing could be seen further in than a few feet from the edge. In his impatience, he thought for a moment of exposing an arm or leg to tempt Canfield but shirked at the idea. Canfield was giving each post the treatment, he’ll get around to us eventually, he thought grimly and tried to relax a bit. He nervously tidied the pile of spare magazines that lay on the ground by his side.
The sub‑machine gun he held was not accurate at that range but there was always the chance of getting him with a lucky burst. If everything went according to plan, Drayton would be joined by four more guards. The combined fire‑power the seven of them could put out, might just do the trick but they could not rely on it. Drayton listened intently, straining his ears and dreading the sound of a shot from the opposite side of the house. That would mean Canfield was circling around them the other way. Where the hell was he, he thought in irritation.
Just then, the concrete flower-pot he was sheltering behind rocked backwards under the thunderous impact of a high velocity round. He poked the machine gun around it instantly and fired back blindly into the trees, aiming high to drop the fire onto the start of the trees. His two companions opened up, concentrating their fire to the sides as Drayton had ordered them to. Shell cases chattered from his gun, hitting the flower-pot beside it with a continuous brassy tinkle that could just be heard over the roar of the machine guns. The air stank of cordite which drifted up slowly in a blue cloud above them.
His magazine emptied and he quickly rolled onto his back to replace it with a fresh one. He slapped the new one home and flipped over to resume firing. He hosed it slightly, from left to right, hoping he might get lucky. A savage glee took hold as he imagined Canfield somewhere in there, cringing under the withering storm of fire‑power. Now it’s our turn, he though, as he visualised him frantically scuttling for non-existent cover, hugging the ground desperately with no protection but some flimsy bushes and vegetation as the rounds smashed in about him.
From their right came the sound of a new machine gun firing, as the first of the reinforcements arrived, and his spirits rose in response to their support. He climbed to a kneeling stance behind cover, to more accurately gauge the impact point of his fire. He walked the line of bullets back and forth along the treeline, watching the destructive effects with growing satisfaction. His companions joined in. Their faces were suffused with a ferocious glee, their mouths pulled back into grins of malicious enjoyment as a mood of sweet revenge overwhelmed them all. Their faces were illuminated in orange satanic flickers by the muzzle flashes of their weapons. It was reckless and totally intoxicating. All the tension and anxiety of the last hours was being released in one grand orgiastic act of total destruction. Drayton stood up, madly determined to be the first one to hit Canfield.
Fire opened up on their left. The others had arrived. The vegetation in front of them trembled and shredded under the impact of the firestorm of bullets. Branches were blown clean off trees and fluttered to the ground, which itself disappeared in a cloud of small vicious whirlwinds. The thunder filled the night, bouncing across the lawn, echoing deafeningly and endlessly between the house and the forest, building up to a non-stop roar that obliterated the last remaining tatters of their self‑control. The trees in front seemed to lean away from them under the sheer pressure of the hail of bullets. Rounds hit tree trunks and were stopped dead in their tracks with solid hollow impacts that stripped back the bark. Saplings split and disintegrated, shivering into tattered remnants of themselves. The forest jumped and danced, alive and yet dying in an epileptic fit of destruction. Nothing could live through that, he thought triumphantly as the overheating machine gun writhed in his hands like a living thing. His magazine finally emptied. He looked around as he changed it for another. They were all standing up, all leaning forward, pumping out hundreds of rounds.
With the pause, sanity reasserted itself in him. He pulled his two companions down behind cover with difficulty, ordering them to cease fire. The fire from the others trailed off as they finally noticed Drayton waving them down. Drayton lay down behind the cover and counted to one hundred slowly, wondering how Krupmeyer was getting on. At one hundred, he opened fire again. This time, the fire was careful and controlled after the insane catharsis of the first fusillade. The blood lust had left them all. When he stopped firing, the others did.
He did a short count to fifty and opened up again. After he stopped, he listened for the three shots from Krupmeyer but there was no signal. What’s keeping him, he wondered impatiently as he counted, he’d had more than enough time to get them there. At the end of the count, he opened fire again, beginning to worry about the amount of ammunition they were expending. He had only two full magazines left. He started firing carefully, in short controlled bursts. He hoped the others were doing the same. This was all the ammunition they had left.
He paused and restarted the shooting several times, until finally he heard the three pistol shots from Krupmeyer in one of the pauses. He immediately started putting out covering fire while waving the others back to the side of the house. When they were all there, he abandoned the position and under their covering fire, ran back to join them where they sheltered, pressed to the wall at the side of the house. As he approached, he could see that one of them was missing, there was only five. To his terse enquiry, one of them said Canfield had already got the missing man. Drayton hardly stopped to take in the bad news but ran by them, waving them after him at a run. They reached the southern edge of the house and jogged across the lawn and into the forest.
When Krupmeyer heard Drayton opening fire, he pulled open the kitchen door in readiness for their escape. The butler and the cook hoisted the wounded man up onto his feet and prepared to carry him. They had to wait for the other five guards, who were going with them, to assemble in the kitchen from their scattered posts around the house. Letting them join up in the darkness would have been too dangerous. The firing built up to crescendo as he paced about, furious at the time the guards appeared to be taking.
One by one they arrived. Finally, when all five were there, he herded them through the door and out into the night. Carrying the wounded man slowed them up badly. Two of the guards quickly relieved the domestics of him and the pace speeded up. Krupmeyer led, with the maid giving him breathless directions from behind. He was relieved to get off the lawn and into the cover of the forest. There was a path of sorts, which led through the forest to a clearing where the summer house stood. The path twisted and turned, blind corner following blind corner. Canfield could be anywhere along it, thought Krupmeyer, if Drayton had not managed to keep him pinned down. At first he was careful, but the terrible slowness of the retreat forced him to up the pace. He increased it, until the overburdened guards carrying the wounded man could hardly keep up. As soon as the pair’s pace slackened, they were relieved by two others. He kept his eyes on the ground, looking for trip wires and booby traps.
Finally, he abandoned all caution and staying well ahead of them in case he hit a trip wire, just exhorted them to more speed. It took them over five minutes to get through the forest and Krupmeyer’s nerves were raw by the time he saw the end of the path.
With relief, they burst from the darkness of the forest path out into a large clearing that was bathed in moonlight. In the middle of it, was the summer house. It was a one-story bungalow made entirely of wood and stood three feet off the ground on stilts, in the fashion of an African plantation house. He raced ahead of them with his last reserves of energy, determined to check it out before they got there. With the finishing tape in sight, the rest increased their pace, bursting into an exhausted run behind him to reach safety. He arrived there first and had his hand already on the door when the first of them straggled up behind.
He jerked his hand away in sudden fright as the thought of a booby trap occurred to him. That’s just what he’d do, he thought, his pulse racing as he stood looking at the door. He’d let us get through the forest unscathed and hit us right now, just when we thought we’d made it. He was beginning to know how Canfield’s mind worked and with every passing second the certainty grew that the house was booby-trapped.
He waved them back from it urgently and walked along the side of the house to a window. He looked through but could not see anything in the murky darkness inside. He shone the torch he had carried in his pocket through it, trying to see the back of the door. There was a lump of plastic explosive stuck there, with wires trailing to the floor out of the ugly detonator stuck into it. He was suddenly aware of the coldness of the sweat he was covered in. There was nowhere else for them run to. They had run out of hiding places, they had to have the summer house.
Shouting out a warning, he told them to get away from the front of the bungalow. They scurried back into the middle of the lawn, the guards turning to point their guns back along the way they had come. Looking at them, he realised he had to get them inside and behind cover quickly. The moonlight and their location in the open made them perfect targets. He peered at the inside of the window surround, looking for wires. There was nothing he could see.
He quickly broke the glass with the butt of the torch and smashed a hole big enough to poke his head through. He looked inside. Still nothing. He shone the torch down at the floor beside the window and it was clean except for the shards of broken glass. Reaching in carefully, he release the catch on the inside of the window and opening it, climbed in, squeezing his big frame through with difficulty. He stood up inside and moved the torch around, quickly but carefully examining the interior for any more booby traps. He could not see anything suspicious.
He advanced to the door and hunkered down to hurriedly examine the device fixed to its back by the light of the torch. A large square battery stood on the floor with wires connecting it to the ugly detonator sticking out of the plastic explosive. More wires ran to the door frame. His knowledge of explosive ordinance was basic and he did not recognise the type of detonator. It had to be electric, fired by the completion of the circuit around the frame when the door was opened. He studied it intently but could not see any other gadgets, apart from the two basic circuits. He had heard of anti‑handling detonators that could be embedded in the plastic explosive itself and hoped Canfield had not been able to get hold of anything like that. Putting something like that in place would be risky but that would not deter Canfield, he admitted to himself. Where to start, he wondered desperately, his hands making small indecisive passes at various wires. He could not take too long. Drayton was expecting them to be ready soon.
He put his left hand on the detonator to keep it still and, with a silent prayer, slowly started easing off one of the two wires attached to it. It was connected to the detonator by a spade connector. His eyes closed involuntarily and he tensed, expecting at any moment that white-hot explosion like the one that had nearly killed him all those years ago. Dreadful images flicked through his mind as the two halves of the metal connector slid over each other. It finally came apart with a rasping click as the tin halves separated.
He head dropped and he let out the breath he had been holding. His left hand still held the detonator while he regarded the innocent piece of wire in the other. The tip of it quivered in his shaking hand as he examined it. The end of the wire had been neatly soldered to that half of the connector. No twists of wire for Canfield, he reflected sourly, getting his nerve back. He eased the second wire off the detonator and, turning to the battery, disconnected all the wires that ended at its two terminals.
It should be safe now, he thought, looking at the lump of explosive spread out obscenely on the back of the door with the detonator sticking out of it. The thought of another detonator buried in it nagged at him, until he had to check it out. He fished out the probe he had used on Drayton’s wounds and pressed it slowly and carefully into the putty‑like substance. He worked from the edges inward, ready to back off the pressure at any moment, at the least resistance. Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead and into his eyes, stinging them with their saltiness. He ignored them, clearing his vision with involuntary squints, patiently trying new areas with the probe. He knew he must be quick. The longer the others remained outside in the open, the more likely it was that Canfield would turn up. Outside in the distance, he heard the shooting start up again. He felt the urge to speed up but ignored it, knowing he was working as fast as was possible. The metal probe was slippery and difficult to hold but always reached the wooden back of the door. Finally satisfied there was nothing embedded in it, he pulled the detonator out of the explosive and laid it gingerly down on the floor beside the door.
He stood up, stretching the stiffness and aches brought on by the tension, out of his large frame. He felt empty and drained and took a moment to steady himself before opening the door and calling in the others from the safe distance they had retreated to. They slipped in and he told one of the guards to take another careful look about the interior for any more booby traps while he went outside. He took out the gun he had kept pushed into his belt and aimed it into the air. Far off in the distance, he could hear the sound of firing and patiently waited for it to stop. When it did, he fired three carefully spaced shots into the air. He walked back into the house, ejecting the magazine to replace the three rounds he had just used. Before closing the door, he looked across the clearing into the forest and hoped Drayton and the others would make it back in one piece.