Jack Higgins – The Savage Day

‘Now what?’ he whispered.

I heard Ford say, ‘Johnson, take a look and see if you can spot him.’

Johnson, a stocky young sergeant, crawled to the corner and peered round cautiously. Nothing happened. Even the crowd on the other side of the square had gone quiet. Johnson eased forward, there was a single shot and he was lifted bodily backwards.

He cannoned against me and rolled over, gasping, but when a couple of his men lifted him into a sitting position we saw that the bullet had mushroomed against his flak jacket and he was simply winded by the blow.

Another round chipped the corner and a second ricocheted from the cobbles on the other side of the Land-Rover. Someone tried a steel helmet on the end of a stick round the corner and the moment it appeared, a bullet drilled a neat hole through it.

The medics were trying to persuade Ford to get on a stretcher so they could take him to the ambulance and he was telling them exactly what to do about it in crisp Anglo-Saxon.

‘By God, but he’s doing a great job whoever he is,’ Binnie whispered. ‘He’s got every bastard here neatly pinned down.’

‘Including us,’ I said, ‘Or had you forgotten that? We’ve got just over an hour to get to Spanish Head,

Binnie, which means that if we’re not out of here within the next ten minutes, Norah Murphy’s had it.’

He stared at me aghast. I picked up the helmet with the hole through and handed it to him. ‘When I give the word, toss that out into the square.’

I pulled off my beret, then crawled to the corner on my belly and peered round at ground level. The most likely spot seemed to be the church tower opposite. I was proved right a moment later, for when Binnie threw the helmet there was some sort of movement up there in the belfry and the helmet jumped twenty feet as another round pumped into it. A second shot chipped the corner just above my head and I withdrew hurriedly.

‘What’s the situation, sir ?’ Ford called.

‘He’s in the belfry,’ I said, ‘and he’s good. He’ll kill any man stone dead who tries to make it to that church door.’

Ford nodded wearily. ‘We’ll have to wait till B company gets here. We’ll smoke him out soon enough then.’

As I stood up, Binnie whispered urgently. ‘We can’t stand around here doing nothing while Norah’s life’s ticking away by the minute.’

‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘And the only way out of here is by knocking out the kd up there in die tower.’

‘But he’s one of our own.’

‘It’s either him or Norah Murphy. Make up your mind.’

His face was very pale now, sweat on his brow. He glanced about him wildly as if looking for some other way out, then nodded. ‘All right, damn you, what do we have to do?’

‘It’s simple,’ I said. ‘I want you to draw his fire by driving the Land-Rover out into the square. I’ll handle the rest.’

He turned from me at once, went to the Land-Rover and got behind the wheel. As he started the engine, I took

the rifle from a young private who was kneeling beside me.

I said to Ford, ‘Perhaps we won’t have to wait for B company after all, Lieutenant.’ Then I flattened myself against the corner and gave Binnie the nod.

He roared out into the square and the sniper in the tower went to work instantly. I allowed him two shots, then ran out into the open, raised the rifle to my shoulder and fired six or seven times up into the belfry very rapidly.

It was enough. The bells started to ring, a hideous clamour as bullets ricocheted from them, a rifle jumped into the air, a man in a trenchcoat seemed to poise there for a moment, then dived head first to the cobbles.

I handed the rifle back to its owner and started across the square. Binnie had braked to a halt in the centre. As I reached him, the Highlanders moved past me towards the body. The smoke seemed suddenly to grow thicker, from the rain, I suppose, choking the square so that visibility was reduced to a few yards.

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