After Franz and Hans had been dropped off, David and Georg drove eastward to Sankt Georgen then southward to Donaueschingen where they paused to book a room in a gasthaus. They continued toward Blumberg, and as they entered the town, David pointed to the oversized thermometer on the front of the hardware store. "Minus four now. It's been warming steadily all day."
"It'll be more comfortable for them than we had anticipated."
David looked at his watch. "Sixteen ten. Unlikely it will begin thawing before it starts its overnight cooling." At the far edge of town, he turned to follow the sign southward toward Fützen, then pulled to the side of the winding road a little over a kilometre along, in a spot overlooking the viaduct.
They were quiet as they surveyed the scene, then David nodded to Georg. "Still makes sense to do it as we had planned. Set the charges and run the cord after dark this evening." He unfolded the map and tapped the edge of the forest wrapped in a crescent around a hill. "Let's go back up to Zollhaus, and you can guide me to your gravel pit and the wood-cutting road."
A quarter hour later, he braked the lorry to a stop in an abandoned gravel pit. "This is better than I had hoped. Close to the road, but out of sight, and nearly a kilometre from the target."
Georg nodded. "We should get going before it gets dark. Orient ourselves while we still have a bit of light."
They shouldered their packs and headed along the cutting road through the forest, leading around the side of a hill and into a broad gully. "This is the stream that runs under the viaduct. The gully opens out into a small valley."
The pair continued into the gully, then forded the small ice-choked stream and headed out the other bank as the track led them around the next hillside. A few minutes farther along, Georg stopped and pointed to the right. "About here. We should be close to the end of the viaduct. Should be fifty or sixty metres through the trees."
The viaduct began to show through the screen of trees a short while after they had stepped off the wood road. Georg pointed across to it and chuckled. "The guards are huddled around a fire. That'll be good for us if they keep it going after dark. They'll have no night vision."
"I'm pleased they're being so helpful. Much easier to set the charges and run the cord with them blinded." David pointed back into the trees. "Let's continue along down the slope and locate a good sniping stance."
About a hundred metres along, Georg stopped and pointed. "The trains start picking up speed as the slope steepens. You can see the grade change at the end of the viaduct, and this is where the men begin applying their brakes." He pointed out through the screen of trees. "This is a good place to prevent them from starting."
"This seems a bit close to the guards. They'll hear the gun shots."
"They're right beside the train with the wheel noise less than two metres from their ears. I stood that close to a train as it came down, and I found the racket near deafening. My ears rang for a long while after. I think it will mask your shots."
David pulled the wooden case from his pack, opened it and took out the pistol, then clipped its handle to the case. He moved two fallen branches from a level spot and got into a prone shooting position on the leaf-covered ground. "This should work well. Like a shooting gallery, waiting for the targets to scroll past."
He sat up, unclipped the Mauser and put it back into its case. "Let's go plot your route to the tracks while we still have some light. The new moon was Monday, so it will be another dark night. Great to keep you hidden, but difficult for you to find your way."
"I know the area well from my time exploring here three weeks ago. I've a lot of visual markers to guide me." They headed through the trees in a gradually descending traverse across the side of the hill. "Here. This is where I thought to use as my screen. A clear view of the train as it heads around the switchback. If it weren't so cold, we could skip the gasthaus; there's a comfortable place over there." Georg pointed into the trees. "I spent three of my nights there."
They sat looking at the tracks as the sky turned to pink and golden hues in the west. "Not much colour tonight." David pointed toward the horizon in front of them. "No clouds to decorate the sky, nor to keep the heat in. It'll be cold again."
They sat quietly as it slowly grew darker, then Georg stood. "Let me get this done, then we can relax until morning."
David watched as Georg gradually faded from view in the starlight, then he lay back in the thick duff. Seven months I've been thinking of this. A lot of changes since the idea first appeared. God! So many. Who'd have thought any...
His musings were interrupted by a distant rumbling, gradually becoming louder. A train. He sat up and strained his eyes into the gloom, then he saw the headlight come around the bend, and shortly, he heard the hollow rumble as it crossed the viaduct. Lying into his shooting position, he aimed his empty arms as if he had his weapon. Then he heard the increasing squeal of brakes being applied. This will be easy.
He watched the beam of the headlight sweep around the broad switchback then start around their target bend, illuminating the viaduct pillars as he smiled broadly. Aimed right at them. Hope Georg was there to confirm the spot. Doesn't matter, though. We've calculated it so many times, four and a half metres beyond the start of the curve.
A little over an hour later, David blew out a deep breath and whispered, "Welcome back," when he saw George carefully reeling the detonator cord from the spool as he approached.
"The train confirmed our calculations. Let's finish here and go. I'll do the connection in the morning. I'm fucking-near frozen."
They slowly picked their way through the trees back up the slope, David switching on his electric torch after they had a sufficient screen of trees. "Their fire over there will blind them to this, anyway, but no sense being careless."
After several minutes, they found the wood road, then followed along it back to the lorry in the gravel pit. "Dinner and bed will be welcome," David said as he climbed into the cab after starting the engine. They both let out deep breaths as he started driving.
YOU ARE READING
Back In ActionHistorical Fiction
In the early months of the First World War, a young Canadian soldier uses quick thinking and ingenuity to evade capture after being wounded fighting in Flanders. While escaping through Germany to the Swiss border, he becomes intimately entwined with...