Line of Descent Chapter 26
Krupmeyer stared through the smoke at the black indistinct figure rising up through the hole in the floor in front of him. His eyes watered from the acrid smoke and his ears were filled with a high-pitched ringing from the effects of the explosion. The figure seemed to unbend slowly until it was standing there slightly crouched. Gradually the outline resolved into Canfield. He stood there in the swirling black smoke with a large wickedly shaped knife and slowly looked around the room. Around the sides of it, people lay strewn where they had been thrown by the blast.
Krupmeyer watched his bright eyes picking through them carefully, looking for Walters. The whites of his eyes seemed unnaturally bright compared to the blackness of his face. His eyes rested on Krupmeyer for a moment but there was no recognition in them, just a calm dismissal of him as a threat. He eventually found Walters, lying jumbled up with the others who had been sheltering behind the barricade of furniture. His eyes fixed on him and he paused, watching him, perhaps savouring the moment.
Walters was conscious but dazed. A stream of blood ran freely down his face from an injury to his head that he had received in the explosion. He seemed to be gathering his wits together. His hand went to his face and came away with blood on it. He looked at the blood on his fingertips for a moment before feeling about tenderly on top of his head in a distracted way to locate the injury. In the instant that he located it, he noticed for the first time Canfield standing there staring at him. His hand ceased its search and he squinted into the smoke, trying to make out the face of the figure before him. His eyes widened slowly and his mouth dropped open, as the realisation dawned.
That was what Canfield had been waiting for, Krupmeyer now realised. He wanted Walters to be fully aware, to know what was about to happen to him. He wanted all his juices running. It was the signal for Canfield to move. He stepped out of the hole and up onto the ragged edge of the floor. It creaked under his weight. From Krupmeyer’s prone position, he looked huge and unstoppable.
He walked towards the terrified Walters slowly, never taking his gaze off him. Walters scrabbled back against the upended sofa until he could retreat no further. His feet scraped against the floor uselessly and he looked frantically behind him to see what was preventing his escape. He cringed as Canfield reached down with his left hand and, grabbing a handful of shirt, hauled him to his feet. Walters struggled weakly and made small terrified mewing sounds as Canfield pulled him in close to look into his eyes. Walters’ eyes flicked between Canfield’s eyes and the knife. It was held out high in the air in Canfield’s right hand. The finely ground edge of it glinted a razor-sharp grey. He moved it in towards Walters, resting the edge against the fat of his left cheek. Walters’ struggles ceased instantly. Canfield move the knife sideways along the cheek, as if shaving off the stubble of his beard. Walters’ eyes were wide with petrified terror.
Krupmeyer struggled to his feet and lurched in their direction. Canfield turned at the noise but Krupmeyer was in time to lunge at the arm holding the knife with his good right hand. He got a solid grip on the wrist but Canfield shoved Walters down and turned to grab at Krupmeyer’s throat with his left hand. Krupmeyer’s left arm hung uselessly at his side so he turned in to barge Canfield down with the back of his right shoulder while he twisted the wrist of the hand holding the knife with all his might.
Canfield stepped around behind him and slid his left arm across his throat and started to exert an upward pressure against the jaw with his forearm, threatening to break Krupmeyer’s neck. Krupmeyer resisted the pressure, his neck muscles bulging but he was losing it and he knew it. He had to do something quick. He twisted back around to face Canfield and, still holding tight to the knife hand, jumped off the floor to lock his legs about Canfield’s waist. Canfield struggled to stay upright but Krupmeyer squeezed his waist with all the strength in his legs. His teeth drew back in a savage rictus as he tried with all his might to crush the life out of him.
Canfield was injured and could not support the weight of a seventeen stone man. He finally fell over but contrived to land on top of Krupmeyer. His free hand went to the side of Krupmeyer’s face and he pressed his thumb into the eye. Krupmeyer screamed under the sudden agonising pain and jerked his head from side to side, trying to escape the terrible pressure but Canfield’s fingers held fast while with his other arm he exerted a new and terrible strength. The blade trembled in the air as they both fought for supremacy but slowly and surely, Krupmeyer saw it coming closer from out of his good eye.
He arched his back in a final burst of strength and, as Canfield lifted of the floor, he rolled over quickly, still keeping a grip on the wrist. It broke the attack on his eye but Canfield’s hand quickly searched to renew the attack. Krupmeyer kept rolling. They crashed against the wall with Canfield on top. His free hand went to Krupmeyer’s throat and got a grip, the thumb starting to press directly down against his larynx. Krupmeyer rolled back across the floor, forcing the knife between them towards Canfield’s left arm to cut him. Canfield let go of his throat and Krupmeyer rolled free of him, finally letting go of the wrist. They both staggered to their feet and stood crouched, facing each other. It did not last for long.
The knife in Canfield’s hand made small threatening circles as he advanced on Krupmeyer. He held the blade out flat in front of him, while his other arm stuck out from his side to counterbalance the knife arm. It looked practised and very deadly. Letting go of him had been a mistake, Krupmeyer realised immediately but Canfield was too much for him close in, especially as Krupmeyer only had the use of one arm. He looked about him, desperately seeking some sort of weapon. A piece of wood from the shattered flooring lay at his feet. He picked it up quickly and held the sharp splintered end out in front of him, jabbing it at Canfield to keep him at bay while he racked his brains for a way out.
They were within feet of each other when Canfield knocked the piece of wood to one side and took a slice at the arm holding it. Krupmeyer winced as the tip of the knife cut through the muscle of his forearm effortlessly, lifting a flap of flesh which bled immediately. He had seen enough knife fights to know that they rarely ended in a stabbing. The fighters usually cut each other to ribbons with small attacking slashes and slices. Canfield knew what he was doing, going after Krupmeyer’s good arm to weaken it. As Canfield’s knife withdrew, Krupmeyer swung the plank back from the side and jabbing it forward, caught Canfield on the chest with the sharp end. It hit something solid which broke and blunted the splintered end of the timber. Krupmeyer realised with dismay that Canfield was wearing some sort of chest protector. That’s why he didn’t go down when I hit him on the way in, he realised. He lofted the timber over his head, determined to use it like a club, abandoning the tactic of using it as a pike.
Canfield feinted with the tip of the knife and Krupmeyer swung the timber down, aiming for the knife arm. He missed and the momentum of his swing carried the timber whizzing past Canfield. Canfield pulled his hand back out of the way just enough and, as the club passed by, lunged in to cut Krupmeyer’s shoulder, his feet leaving the ground and his knife arm fully extended to reach its target. Krupmeyer retreated, his shoulder stinging. His eyes searched about, looking for one of the guns that must be on the floor somewhere. It couldn’t go on like this, he thought. His arm was tiring and that last cut seemed to have weakened it further. There, near Drayton’s huddled form ‑ he saw it. A pistol. He started shuffling sideways towards it but Canfield had seen it too and quickly moved to cut him off from it.
Krupmeyer made a lunge for it, as if to poke it with the wooden club. Canfield moved quickly in that direction to block him but Krupmeyer’s manoeuvre was just a feint. He swung the timber backhanded and connected solidly with Canfield’s chest, rocking him backwards onto his heels. Krupmeyer pressed his advantage, lifting the club high and hitting Canfield again before he could recover. He got him, high on the head but Canfield had managed to raise his left arm to partially block it. It took some of the force out of the blow but not all. He staggered to the right and Krupmeyer swung at him again. Canfield weaved out of the way and cut Krupmeyer on the chest as he missed with the massive backhander. Krupmeyer kicked him with his left leg, hitting him beside the knee and making him collapse to the left on the floor. He rolled as Krupmeyer flailed at him, not managing to hit him squarely as he pursued him across the floor. Canfield rolled to his feet but not before Krupmeyer threw the timber at him and leapt after it.
The wood glanced off his body but Krupmeyer was on him, grabbing the knife arm once again and slamming into him with enough force to knock him over. They hit the floor with a crash and Krupmeyer lay on top of Canfield, trying to knee him. Canfield’s arm came up into his face and the forearm slid under his chin, forcing Krupmeyer’s his head back. Canfield’s hand gripped Krupmeyer’s shoulder, the fingers digging in as the forearm forced upwards. Krupmeyer wriggled but could not break the hold.
He jerked his head back and to one side. As the forearm slid up the side of his face, he turned back and opened his mouth wide. He bit into the forearm as hard as he could. Canfield screamed in pain and wriggled the arm out of Krupmeyer’s mouth and down his face to the neck. He rolled on top of Krupmeyer and his hand found Krupmeyer’s throat again. This time he sat straddled on Krupmeyer’s chest and exerted a choking pressure which was unbreakable. Krupmeyer’s throat hurt intolerably and his weakened arm could not resist the knife coming closer to his face. He arched his back but could not summon up enough strength to move Canfield off his chest. His arm throbbed as he fought to keep the knife at bay. With despair, he saw it moving inexorably closer until it was under his chin. He felt it start to cut and pushed back with manic strength but it was useless.
A shot boomed out from across the room. Canfield was jerked to the side, off Krupmeyer’s chest but still hung on to his throat. He pulled Krupmeyer after him, rolling over to keep Krupmeyer between himself and the direction the shot had come from. Krupmeyer could not see who had fired it but realised it had hit Canfield on the side. He had been saved by the bullet proof vest again and now he was using Krupmeyer for cover. The fear and outrage gave Krupmeyer a fresh burst of energy. He tried to roll over on top of Canfield but was pushed back. As he fell back to Canfield’s side, he used the momentum to keep rolling but Canfield held on to him and rolled over as well. As Krupmeyer came around, he caught a glimpse of a pale and dreadfully weak‑looking Drayton holding a pistol unsteadily in both hands, trying to pick out a clean shot at Canfield.
‘Shoot’ screamed Krupmeyer, as he rolled under and Canfield came to the top again. Drayton fired, hitting Canfield on the left arm, breaking it. Blood splashed into Krupmeyer’s face but Canfield was not stopped by it. He rolled on and managed to use the momentum of the last roll to fling Krupmeyer off his chest and into Drayton. All three ended up in a writhing scrum of arms and legs and Krupmeyer screamed as the knife slashed into his chest.
‘Shoot. Shoot’ he screeched at Drayton in desperation, not caring if he was hit or not. The gun fired again, its sound deafening him at such close range, and he felt the instant agony of a bullet tearing its way through the soft flesh of his side. Drayton fired again and again but no more of them hit Krupmeyer. Canfield, on top of him jerked repeatedly as Drayton poked the gun against his waist and fired round after round but he still slashed at Drayton the whole time. Krupmeyer thought Canfield had hit him a blow on the chest but instead he realised that Canfield had finally ceased his struggles and had fallen like a dead-weight on top him.
Krupmeyer lay there with Canfield’s body on his chest. Drayton, lying beside him, rolled it off him and struggled up to a sitting position against the wall. He looked down at his own chest. Blood flowed freely down it from the multiple slashes Canfield had made with the knife in his last frenzied attack. His last thing he saw before he lapsed into unconsciousness, was Krupmeyer’s blood soaked hand clutched to the gunshot wound in his side.