War Crimes Part 2 – Poor Life Choices

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

This is fiction. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is coincidental. The events outlined have never to my knowledge occurred. The legal organisation does not exist outside of this story. There may be others whose activities are just as questionable as this fictional account of one man’s persecution and the terrible, fictional repercussions. Some of the locations are real.

It had been a terrible year for Edge. On the second of January he was arrested in his house at 0600 for causing an affray and actual bodily harm. The arrest related to an incident that had taken place in the Hoppers Inn and County Hotel just outside Bideford in North Devon. It was during a New Year’s Eve party that Moira’s father had been involved in arranging for all of the firm’s workers, a bolt-on to another event that was already taking place at the venue. It had been quite a boisterous affair and the drink had been freely flowing. Edge had made an early start at lunchtime in the pub and needed little in the way of encouragement to delve deeply of the Hoppers Inn.

It started as all these things do, innocuously enough. Edge wasn’t a Devonian but Moira was and even when they married she had refused follow him on his postings “like some baggage or chattel,” as she had put it, “My family lives here and here I want to stay.” So they had bought a house on the river, south of Bideford before the house prices started to go through the roof. Edge had spent ten years of unaccompanied tours, commuting from places like Germany, the Midlands, Scotland and Wiltshire, paying a Mortgage and living in the block and then the mess. They had two children, a boy and a girl, but how they had managed to find the time was a mystery for Edge.

They had met at a wedding in 1998, for an Army friend (yes he had friends then) in Bristol. She was recently single and fucking gorgeous. He was aloof, interesting and slightly dangerous, attractive in his own way. He had nowhere to stay. She had a room in a hotel. They spent the rest of the weekend, entwined and sweating in an ecstasy of rutting and drinking. But by Christ, despite the differences in their backgrounds and outlook, there was passion. The problem was, Moira would grow to become bored with the hedonism of drinking and sex. He never would.

Since leaving the Army, life was relatively easy. Too easy, but monstrously difficult. It was impossible to know where the lines were, because they seemed to change all the time, constantly shifting like the Goodwin Sands. He would say something one week and people would laugh, but the next week there would be a complaint. Never to him, but to a line manager, a union rep or a “good friend.” And on a long, boozy, New Year’s Eve he crossed the start line in the Hoppers Inn and County Hotel. There would be no going back.

And the problem was Moira was still fucking gorgeous and she had been there, stayed there, while he had been in assorted shitholes around the world. And Daz, who had been in North Devon, stayed there. Stupid name. Daz the line manager and Moira’s Dad’s right hand man. The same Daz who had his left arm lightly draped around Moira’s neck, his index and middle finger neatly tucked in that interesting little depression on her upper sternum, the xiphoid process, just before the plunging valley between her still amazingly pert tits.

“All right, Daz?”

He looked up and gave a smile, or was it a sneer, “All right, Mark?”

“I was wondering, Daz, if I could sit next to my wife.”

“Plenty of room either side, Mark.”

Moira gave him that: Oh don’t make a fuss look. It’s just Daz being Daz.

“Oh, I see. All right then Daz. Let me put this another way, if you don’t stop feeling my wife’s tits, I’m going to rip your fucking face off,” Edge said in a low, almost pleasant voice.

It was that walk into the saloon, through the swing doors moment. That moment when the piano stops playing and the boy runs to get the Sherriff. All conversation round the table stopped.

“Mark, for God’s sake stop it,” Moira hissed up at him. Across the room, her father looked up as though this were predestination.

“Look, mate, you’ve obviously been having a stressful week. You’re not in the Army now. See, all those years in the Army have made you paranoid.”

Edge put his glass down slowly on the table, “I tell you what, Daz, why don’t we step outside so that I can show you just how fucked up the Army’s made me?”

Daz was a big man in his prime, slightly running to fat. Edge was small, stocky and well past his fighting fitness. Daz was at least eight inches taller than Edge. Daz was going to fuck Moira Edge, nee Tremain tonight, after a little heave-ho in the hotel car park with her drunk of a husband. He undraped his arm and grinned up at Edge, “Lead the way, dickhead. “I’ll see you in a minute, Moira.”

Edge had no intention of having an unseemly brawl outside with this swaggering, piece of shit. Edge had learned over twenty years ago that those who play by the rules end up hurt or dead. As Daz stood up he was level with Edge, but pinned by a table in front and the seat behind. Edge drove his head and neck forward with such violence and force that he split his forehead open on Daz’s nasal septum. He felt it shatter like an eggshell. Edge would have a headache for two days and have to stitch his forehead in front of the mirror with sutures from his survival first aid kit the next day, after dousing the wound the previous night with white vinegar. But it wouldn’t stop oozing blood. Daz would wake up in the North Devon District Hospital the following evening. The criminal compensation pay-out would pay for the extensive bridgework on his upper front teeth, but he would never breathe through his nose again. He never got to fuck Moira again, but then again, neither did Edge.

Predictably he lost his job, hardly surprising as Edge suspected that Moira’s father had been angling to get rid of him for months. The thing that hurt him the most was Moira’s coldness towards him and her siding with the man who had been attempting to seduce her for the past fourteen years. What kept him awake in their now permanently separate beds, or in his case a sofa bed, was the terrible, nagging doubt that this was no New Year’s Eve silliness; this had been happening all those years while he had been serving in assorted shitholes.

Things became worse when the story was front page of the North Devon Gazette, and the details of a short, albeit severely violent fracas in a hotel bar were given spin and polish by an otherwise bored shitless journalist. He had hit the jackpot. No more red diesel shenanigans, no more farm health and safety breaches. A Mr Mark Edge, former, disgraced soldier, (somehow the hack had found out about his time in Colchester and Edge suspected Moira’s father), had uncharacteristically (or maybe not ran the backstory) erupted violently at a family function on New Year’s Eve. Mr Daniel Copeland had suffered life-changing injuries as a result of the assault. There was even a nice picture of Daz looking wan and helpless in a hospital bed.

Edge was taken in for questioning. During his two days and nights in Barnstaple Police Station, Edge said only eleven words:

“I will make no comment to you. I want a brief.”

The duty solicitor quickly became exasperated with Edge and his stubborn silence, “You have to meet them half-way, Mr Edge. You are facing a serious charge of assault.”

Edge who had successfully completed the full Conduct After Capture Course or SERE as it is now called in the Forces, said absolutely nothing to the two detectives He just continued to stare at them in a detached, contemptuous manner. He was released on bail paid out of his Service Gratuity and appeared in Barnstaple Magistrates Court two weeks later. Edge wore his Regimental tie and medals and was reprimanded by the female magistrate, that despite his service to his country, no one was above the law. He pleaded provocation, was fined and given community service.

He managed to get jobs as a deckhand on the crabbers sailing out of Bideford. The pay was dependent on catch and most of the pond-life in the area wouldn’t have got out of bed for the money he earned. But he liked the hard work in the open air, and became friendly with the skippers who didn’t give a toss about his predilection for ultraviolence. He did his job and became stronger and fitter, but he was drinking astonishing amounts on his days off. Once in a supermarket car park, two associates of Daniel Copeland attempted to even the score, regarding Daz’s nasally snuffle. Edge broke one of his erstwhile assailant’s thumb, sprung a rib with his boot and displaced the right kneecap of the other. The police were either uninterested this time or more likely uninformed. Probably because Edge explained to one of the men on the floor, that he should return to Daz and tell him that if anything like this were attempted again, Daz would be strung up by his bollocks from the rafters of a remote, desolate farmhouse they both knew.

Just before Easter, Moira wanted to have a “long chat” with him regarding their future. Edge was drinking enough and yet not enough to know that they had no future.

“Mark, I don’t know who you are any more. You’re not the person I married.”

And that was the problem in a nutshell. He was exactly the person she had married. But she wasn’t. She was older, perhaps wiser and had moved on with children. He hadn’t. His children seemed to skirt round him, as though he were a stranger in his own house.

“It’s not me, it’s you, Mark.”

Well that was a novel take on things.

“We can’t go on like this. Dad was really good to you and you just threw it back in his face.”

Edge tried to remember just how good Mr Tremain had been to him while he had been driving his poorly- serviced, clocked delivery lorries.

“And I feel for the safety of the children, after your violent escapade. Do you know they’ve been saying to them at school, that your Dad’s a nutter?”

“Is that because their nutter of a father stopped their mother making a fool and a trollop of herself?”

There was silence. He heard a jet fighter rumble overhead, a distraction in their court of misery.

“You’re a bastard, Mark. You always have been. There’s something missing in your head. Poor Daz can’t…”

“Fuck him! If I ever see him again, I’ll kill him. Fuck Daz, fuck your father and fuck your entire family.”

He’d wanted to say those things for about fourteen years and now he had said them, he could never put them back. She was gone in less than thirty minutes. When he returned the next afternoon well-oiled (the boat had docked at 1100), all her clothes and possessions had gone. The children’s’ bedrooms were gutted. It was like his life had been wiped off the slate. He lit the inglenook and cried a few, dry Merlot tears that were as salty as the wounds in his hands and just as wretched.

Edge’s father died in August on a hot, stormy day when the swallows were dipping over the wheat, twisting like fighters in the warm afternoon. His sister phoned him to tell him, sounding just as disinterest in life and him as she always was.

“Thing is, Mark we’re so busy and it’s not as though you have a proper job now, is it? Ronnie and I can’t get the time off and you’re the eldest, so you’ll have power of attorney. We’ve already been to the house, when he went into the hospice. There’s nothing really left that we want.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was dying, Anne?”

“Well, because he didn’t want to see you. Sorry, Mark but that’s how he felt. You never really got on. I’ve got the address of his solicitor. The housing association want the house cleared as soon as possible.”

“So you’ve grubbed through it and taken what you wanted and now I’m supposed to clear up?”

“You always resented me, Mark. It’s about time you did something. You were away for years, swanning around in the Army, while I had to pick up the pieces when Mum died. It took you all your time to be bothered to turn up for the funeral.

“The RAF flew me back from Belize in a specially arranged repatriation flight. If I was late, it was because I’d spent twelve hours flogging across the Atlantic in a Hercules.”

I’ll post everything to you. Stuff from the solicitor.”

“When is the funeral?”

“It was last week, Mark.”

He stared at a watercolour above the hall table. It was a kingfisher, nicely executed, its bright blue plumage reflected in the water. The seconds drew out.

“We thought that it would be for the best, as we didn’t want a scene.”

The kingfisher was Edge’s work, which was probably why Moira hadn’t taken it.

“Anne, I’ve never really told you this before and I really should have done a long time ago. Your husband is a mincing caricature of a man and he’s been having homosexual liaisons with men in public lavatories throughout Warwickshire. This is supposedly while he has been away on business. You however, are what you have always been. A mean-spirited, grasping, heartless bitch.”

She hung up. He smiled grimly to himself. As unlikely as it was, Anne was such a twisted person that she would believe it and tonight, she and her husband would begin their transit through hell.

A large, brown envelope was waiting for him a couple of days later. It contained legal papers as it would appear that he was the executor of the will and a set of house keys. As it was a housing association property, they wanted it cleared as quickly as possible. Edge decided to drive up to the Midlands next Monday.

He had decided not to stay in his father’s house and booked a cheap hotel nearby on the internet. He also phoned a couple of house-clearance companies in the area for the cheapest quote. He set off from Weare Giffard at 0400 on the Monday morning and with a few miles, just after crossing the Torridge Bridge, he was stopped a police car that had been following him since Bideford. It was the thirteenth time he had been stopped by the police since January.

“Good morning, officer. What’s the excuse this time?”

“This time, sir? Excuse? I have stopped you because I have been following you for the past three miles and in my professional opinion, you were driving erratically and did not come to a full stop at a stop sign.”

Edge chuckled, “OK, so the same reason that you personally stopped me on Friday May 24th.”

“I don’t believe that I’ve made your acquaintance before sir.”

“Well officer, I have made yours, not only in May but also twice in April, twice in March but not in January of February. Spot of leave was it? Well not to worry, your other three colleagues more than adequately took up the slack. In fact, officer, since the 14th March, I have made your acquaintance on nine occasions. Five when you’ve been on duty and the four times I’ve noted you while you were off duty, or at least not in uniform. You see officer, I’m extremely observant and sometimes you may not notice me, but I notice you. Shall we get this charade over with?”

It almost sounded threatening because it was and the copper contemplated arresting him. It was as though Edge could read his mind.

“You had better have very good grounds officer. And who knows, my PTSD may kick in and I may resist arrest. Do you really want to start with all the paperwork so close to going off shift?”

The copper breathalysed him to save face, but Edge wasn’t stupid enough to have been drinking the night before. The constable decided to try once more to establish moral authority: “Before I let you go, would you mind telling me where you’re going this time of the morning?”

“Well officer, as this country isn’t quite a police state yet, yes I would mind telling you. But you better get on the blower to your pals in the West Midlands and let them know a shockingly bad driver is heading up to their manor.

The copper watched him drive off and bagged the breathalyser in an evidence bag for his report. “We will get you, you bastard.”

It had been a large village when Edge had left it in 1984. Now it was more or less a suburb of Nuneaton and Coventry. The house had the same carpets, wallpaper and paintwork as it had when he was at school. The garden was overgrown’ the entire neighbourhood was shabby and run down and women shrouded in black scurried past with their entourages of assorted offspring. Inside the house was a shambles. It was as though it had been visited by burglars who had decided to wreck it, because everything inside was so shabby. His father’s clothes were scattered across an unmade bed. A picture of his mother had been kicked under the bed. Edge went downstairs, sat at the kitchen table and put his head in his hands.

He was angry, not just at his appalling sister, but with his father as well. His Dad had worked all his life in the car industry, in a time this neighbourhood had been prosperous. His father was prosperous, he smoked big Castella cigars and they went on holiday twice a year, Spain and Wales. Car manufacture earned some people a lot of money, until the shop stewards like the Red Robbos and superior Japanese cars destroyed the industry. They got greedy at the wrong time and his father had been too stupid to buy the house. Whatever had been half-decent in this house, his sister had taken it.

It took him most of the day to speak to the solicitor, a clearance company, a gardener and to realise that his legacy amounted to some old Shoot Annuals that had been his and a shoebox full of correspondence and paperwork from his now also dead uncle. He kept these on a whim. His uncle had never been close to their family, but he had a soft spot for young Mark. Edge knew that like him, his uncle had been in the Army and was one of the main reasons he hadn’t followed his father into the factories as an apprentice, but joined the Army instead as a boy entrant. His father had despised that decision. Uncle Jack left the army and became a gamekeeper in Norfolk and a Ghillie up near Perth. Edge had last met him at his Mum’s funeral, a frail man and old before his time. He died two years later.

In the afternoon, Edge handed over the keys and money to the house clearance cowboys, went to the solicitors to sign some paperwork, before heading to the hotel, via a supermarket to buy food, cider and wine. He had two shoeboxes of papers, a few books and some football annuals to show for forty-three years. On the way out of the Tesco car park, he spotted a minaret between the dilapidated houses. To him it seemed like a symbol of decay and oppression.

That night rather than watch televisual gaga, Edge made inroads into the cider and wine, reading through his uncle’s paperwork. Letters to Dad when Mum had been ill, but more interesting about a hundred pages of typed A4, with lots of corrections. It related to the time when Jack Edge had been a corporal in the Support Company of the1st Battalion of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment from 1951 to 1952, during the Korean War. Uncle Jack had been in the sniper platoon.

“Well bugger me,” he said out loud, “So that’s why you became a Ghillie.”

Edge became engrossed with Uncle Jack’s account of the Korean War. The story was in places rambling, incoherently written, but was the honest reflection of a man whose life seemed to mirror his own. Jack had been disenfranchised by the 1950s, “Never had it so good”. Well he certainly had in a more honest time. “The Swinging Sixties.” Poofs in flamboyant clothes, a million miles from the woods of Norfolk and the Southern Highlands of Scotland. Edge was chorizo and cheesed out, not to say pissed, by the time he came across the OS Map number, the eight-figure grid reference, plus the intricate, hand-drawn tactical map. It showed a distance in pacing from the corner of a wood and a back-bearing in Mils to a high-tension electricity pylon. There was a position marked with a simple annotation: “Cache.”

Edge laughed,

“Ah Harr,” he said in his best pirate accent, “X marks the spot, eh Uncle Jack? You and me both eh?”

He put the papers back in the shoe box, finished the second bottle of Merlot, fell asleep and forgot most of what he had read. By the next morning he had a thumping headache and had to wait until the afternoon before he was in a fit state to drive. By the time he reached the M5, his childhood, school days and family had gone. He was alone in the universe.

By October the trees along the Torridge were a beautiful sweep of yellows and oranges. The recent heavy rains had swollen the river, which tumbled over the weirs and fallen trees in the race to the sea. The woods that glowered above the river valley were still dark. The air smelled strongly of the coming winter. It was the 16th and there were two remarkable events that day. Edge was chopping last year’s logs for his wood burner and piling them up in the lean-to. It was 1000, so he hadn’t started drinking yet. The boat was going in for the end-of-season overhaul and the only work available was on the tourist fishing boats. He hated those pricks from London with all the gear, but no idea. His pension continued to pay the small mortgage and the CSA’s legalised extortion. He hadn’t seen his wife and children since March. What worried him the most was that he didn’t care.

Edge felt relatively upbeat. He had recently sold two paintings: A study of Appledore from across the Torridge and a portrait of an old fisherman, smoking a pipe outside a pub. The photographs had been taken from the other side of the river with one of his ridiculously large telephoto lenses. Edge was a voyeur and had taken the photograph of the fisherman at 900 metres from the cover of a wood above East–the-Water, just to keep his hand in. The exposure was perfect. He was a talented artist, but an exceptional photographer. The Army had trained him well.

His back was beginning to stiffen from swinging the axe, when he saw the Vauxhall Insignia turn off the road and head up the track. It was a big car and a small, muddy track. Edge would never associate with anyone who drove black, Vauxhall Insignias. This could be trouble, so he tucked the axe in the lean-to, but it was still within easy reach. He watched the car stop at the end of his drive, well more of an opening into the property.

Edge slipped into another, earlier iteration of himself. There are two men in the car. Driver fifties. Passenger thirties. Driver suit. Too small for him now. Tight across the chest. Fucking Plod. Old Plod. Passenger, not Plod. Reaching behind to get something from the back seat. Gun? Do I need to go in now, fast and hard? No, not a gun, a camera. Press? Plod and press in collusion? Not really likely. Stand down from murderous intent.

“Can I help you?” asked Edge.

The man was in his fifties. He was used to having some authority, but the mud in Edge’s drive rather robbed him of any dignity and decorum of whatever position he held may have given him. He stepped gingerly across the firmer ground to avoid the puddles. He was holding a brown envelope.

“Are you Mark Edge, formerly Staff Sergeant Edge?”

“And you are..?

“Detective Sergeant Warberton.”

“Let’s see your warrant card, Pal.”

“I’m retired, but I represent the…”

“I don’t care who you represent. Get your arse off my property.”

“…The Iraq Historical Abuse Tribunal.”

“The what?”

“IHAT. We are investigating historical cases of war crimes, committed by British Service personnel, between 2003 and 2011 in Iraq during Operation Telic.”

“Are you taking the piss, Mr Warberton?”

“I have hereby served notification on you,” he tapped Edge on the shoulder with the envelope and tried to thrust it into his hands, “Staff Sergeant Edge, you do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if…”

“And it may harm your bollocks if you don’t get back into your big, flashy car and fuck off back to under the stone from which you have crawled.” Edge purposely glanced at the axe in the lean-to.

“Please don’t threaten me, Staff Sergeant Edge. I have a warrant that I will issue once you have read the documents and the allegations against you. My colleague over by the car is filming you, so I would strongly advise against physical violence. I will return tomorrow to interview you under caution. I advise you to make a point of being in.”

The retired copper slipped and squelched his way back to the car, “I’d bring some wellies with you next time, Mr Warberton,” Edge suggested helpfully.

“I will be back tomorrow, Edge. You can count on it.”

Edge shook his head and picked up the envelope, which was with assorted papers. He went into the kitchen and filled a tumbler with the dregs of last night’s Merlot. Edge opened the envelope and swiftly went through the top papers, resplendent with the IHAT’s governmental logo. In the paperwork below, he came across the specific allegations against him, compiled by a legal company that had its own headed paper. The Community Legal Notaries.

Staff Sergeant M Edge (complete with Service number) is accused of unlawfully killing a Mr Muhammad Al Jazari on the 28th October 2005 in Amarah in Maysan Province Amarah. Staff Sergeant Edge did unlawfully open fire on Mr Al Jazari without issuing a verbal warning, in contravention of then current Rules of Engagement outlined on Card Alpha.

Mr Al Jarzi was unarmed at the time of the shooting and at no time during the event did he engage in any violent action towards Staff Sergeant Edge or any British troops. Given these circumstances it is deemed that Staff Sergeant Edge’s actions transgressed any definition of the use of reasonable force. In addition, Mr Anah Ahamad and Mr Jamail Hamdani are seeking recompense from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for mental trauma, caused when Mr Al Jarzi was unlawfully killed in front of them.

Edge read the documents a second time with a sense of growing disbelief. He drained the tumbler and opened a second bottle of wine. As he went through the documents more thoroughly, it became clear to Edge that all of his personal details had been passed on to Community Legal Notaries by civil servants in the MoD, including details concerning an operation he though was Secret UK/US Eyes Only.

The second remarkable event was heralded by the kitchen door opening slightly behind him. Edge felt the hair on the back of his neck rise in fear and then bold as brass, Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, strolled into the kitchen and jumped up on the table. He sat down opposite Edge and said: “Meow!”

Monty was a tabby cat of around seven human years of age. He was supposed to be the kids’ cat but the little looking after he required, they didn’t do it. Edge was convinced he had gone with Moira and the kids, but the lure of his own territory must have overcome his dislike of Edge.

“Bloody hell, Monty. You look like shit.”

The cat was thin, his fur matted and he walked with a pronounced limp. There was a tear in his right ear, crusty with blood and a partially-healed scar ran from his right eye to his nose. He had made the ten mile journey back to his home and judging by the state of him, the journey had not been uneventful. Edge cleaned the cat’s wounds with white vinegar and removed a large thorn from a front paw. This was accompanied by much yowling, hissing, biting and scratching. He also cleaned the wounds in his own hands with the vinegar. He found a basket and stuffed an old blanket in it, lit the wood burner and opened a tin of tuna, which Monty turned up his nose at.

“It’s all I’ve got, so you’d better bloody eat it.”

Nevertheless Edge walked into Bideford and came back with cat food. That evening they both sat in the kitchen in front of a very hot wood burner. Edge told him the facts of life.

“I don’t know why you came back, Monty. I’m a cuckold, a drunk and a fucking war criminal.”

“Meow,” the cat agreed.

© Blown Periphery

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